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OUP— 391—  29-4-72— 10,000. 

OSMANIA  UNIVERSITY  LIBRARY 

Call  No.^\  J,  *£***  Accession  No. 

Author 

Title     ( 

This  book  should  be  returned  on  or  before  the  date  last   marked  bclov 


Collected  Stories  of 
WILLIAM  FAULKNER 


BOOKS  BY  WILLIAM  FAULKNER 

Soldiers  Pay 

Sartor  Is 
Mosqiritoes 

The  Sound  and  the  Fury 
As  I  Lay  Dying 

Sanctuary 

These  Thirteen 

Light  hi  August 

A  Green  Bough  (Poems) 

Doctor  Mart  mo 

Pylon 

Absalom ,  Absalom! 

The  Uircanqiiished 

The  Wild  Palms 

The  Hamlet 

Go  Down,  Moses 

Intruder  hi  the  Dust 

Knight* s  Gambit 


Collected  Stories  of 


WILLIAM  FAULKNER 


RANDOM  HOUSE 

New  York 


Acknowledgment  is  here  made  to  the  following  magazines,  in  \vhich 
some  of  the  stories  included  in  this  volume  first  appeared:  The  American 
Mercury,  Voriun,  liar  per*  s  Magazine,  The  Saturday  Evening  Post,  Scrib- 
ticfs  Magazine  and  The  Sewanee  Review. 

Copyright,  1934,  1950,  by  Random  House,  Inc.  Copyright,  1930,  1931, 
1932,  1933,  1934,  !935»  I939'  [94^  J94^i  by  William  Faulkner.  Copyright, 
1930,  by  For  inn.  Copyright,  1930,  1932,  1934,  !94r  !942i  *943»  UY  Curtis 
Publishing  Company. 


All  rights  reserved  under  International  and  Pan-American  Copyright  Con- 
ventions. Published  in  New  York  by  Random  House,  Inc.,  and  simul- 
taneously in  Toronto,  Canada,  by  Random  House  of  Canada,  Limited. 
Manufactured  in  the  United  States  of  America,  by  The  Haddon  Craftsmen, 
Inc.,  Scranton.  Pa. 


Contents 


I.  THE  COUNTRY  PAGE 

Earn  Burning  3 

Shingles  for  the  Lord  27 

The  Tall  Men  45 

A  Bear  Hunt  63 

Tivo  Soldiers  81 

Shall  Not  Perish  101 

II.  THE  VILLAGE 

A  Rose  for  Entity  1 19 

Hair  1 3  i 

Centaur  in  Brass  149 

Dry  September  169 

Death  Drag  185 

Elly  207 

Uncle  Willy  225 

Mule  in  the  Yard                    .  "  249 

That  Will  Be  Fine  265 

That  Evening  Sun  289 

III.  THE  WILDERNESS 

Red  Leaves  313 

A  Justice  343 

A  Courtship  361 

381 


Contents 

IV.  THE  WASTELAND  PAGE 

Ad  Astra  407 

Victory  431 

Crevasse  465 

Turnabout  475 

All  the  Dead  Pilots  5 1 1 

V.  THE  MIDDLE  GROUND 

Wash  535 

Honor  551 

Dr.  Mar  tin  o  565 

Fox  Hunt  587 

Pennsylvania  Station  609 

Artist  at  Home  627 

T£e  Brooch  647 

Af  y  Grandmother  Millard  667 

Golden  Land  701 

There  Was  a  Queen  727 

Mountain  Victory  745 

VI.  BEYOND 

Beyond  781 

Black  Music  799 

Tfce  Leg  823 

Mistral  843 

Divorce  in  Naples  877 

Carcassonne  895 


I  •  THE  COUNTRY 


Barn  Burning 

Shingles  for  the  Lord 

The  Tall  Men 

A  Bear  Hunt 

Two  Soldiers 

Shall  Not  Perish 


Barn  Burning 


THE  STORE  in  which  the  Justice  of  the  Peace's  court  was  sit- 
ting smelled  of  cheese.  The  boy,  crouched  on  his  nail  keg  at 
the  back  of  the  crowded  room,  knew  he  smelled  cheese,  and 
more:  from  where  he  sat  he  could  see  the  ranked  shelves 
close-packed  with  the  solid,  squat,  dynamic  shapes  of  tin 
cans  whose  labels  his  stomach  read,  not  from  the  lettering 
which  meant  nothing  to  his  mind  but  from  the  scarlet  devils 
arid  the  silver  curve  of  fish — this,  the  cheese  which  he  knew 
he  smelied  and  the  hermetic  meat  which  his  intestines  be- 
lieved he  smelled  coming  in  intermittent  gusts  momentary 
and  brief  between  the  other  constant  one,  the  smell  and  sense 
just  a  little  of  fear  because  mostly  of  despair  and  grief,  the 
old  fierce  pull  of  blood.  He  could  not  see  the  table  where  the 
Justice  sat  and  before  which  his  father  and  his  father's  enemy 
(our  enemy  he  thought  in  that  despair;  ourn!  mine  and  hisn 
both!  He's  my  father!}  stood,  but  he  could  hear  them,  the 
two  of  them  that  is,  because  his  father  had  said  no  word  yet: 

"But  what  proof  have  you,  Mr.  Harris?" 

"I  told  you.  The  hog  got  into  my  corn.  I  caught  it  up  and 
sent  it  back  to  him.  He  had  no  fence  that  would  hold  it.  I  told 
him  so,  warned  him.  The  next  time  I  put  the  hog  in  my  pen. 
When  he  came  to  get  it  I  gave  him  enough  wire  to  patch 
up  his  pen.  The  next  time  I  put  the  hog  up  and  kept  it.  I  rode 
down  to  his  house  and  saw  the  wire  I  gave  him  still  rolled  on 


4  The  Country 

to  the  spool  in  his  yard.  I  told  him  he  could  have  the  hog 
when  he  paid  me  a  dollar  pound  fee.  That  evening  a  nigger 
came  with  the  dollar  and  got  the  hog.  He  was  a  strange 
nigger.  He  said,  'He  say  to  tell  you  wood  and  hay  kin  burn.' 
I  said,  'What?'  'That  whut  he  say  to  tell  you,'  the  nigger 
said.  'Wood  and  hay  kin  burn.'  That  night  my  barn  burned. 
I  got  the  stock  out  but  I  lost  the  barn." 

"Where  is  the  nigger?  Have  you  got  him?" 

"He  was  a  strange  nigger,  I  tell  you.  I  don't  know  what 
became  of  him." 

"But  that's  not  proof.  Don't  you  see  that's  not  proof?" 

"Get  that  boy  up  here.  He  knows."  For  a  moment  the  boy 
thought  too  that  the  man  meant  his  older  brother  until 
Harris  said,  "Not  him.  The  little  one.  The  boy,"  and, 
crouching,  small  for  his  age,  small  and  wiry  like  his  father, 
in  patched  and  faded  jeans  even  too  small  for  him,  with 
straight,  uncombed,  brown  hair  and  eyes  gray  and  wild  as 
storm  scud,  he  saw  the  men  between  himself  and  the  table 
part  and  become  a  lane  of  grim  faces,  at  the  end  of  which 
he  saw  the  Justice,  a  shabby,  collarless,  graying  man  in 
spectacles,  beckoning  him.  He  felt  no  floor  under  his  bare 
feet;  he  seemed  to  walk  beneath  the  palpable  weight  of  the 
grim  turning  faces.  His  father,  stiff  in  his  black  Sunday  coat 
donned  not  for  the  trial  but  for  the  moving,  did  not  even 
look  at  him.  He  aims  for  me  to  lie,  he  thought,  again  with 
that  frantic  grief  and  despair.  And  I  'will  have  to  do  hit. 

"What's  your  name,  boy?"  the  Justice  said. 

"Colonel  Sartoris  Snopes,"  the  boy  whispered. 

"Hey?"  the  Justice  said.  "Talk  louder.  Colonel  Sartoris? 
I  reckon  anybody  named  for  Colonel  Sartoris  in  this  country 
can't  help  but  tell  the  truth,  can  they?"  The  boy  said  noth- 
ing. Enemy!  Enemy/  he  thought;  for  a  moment  he  could  not 
even  see,  could  not  see  that  the  Justice's  face  was  kindly  nor 
discern  that  his  voice  was  troubled  when  he  spoke  to  the  man 


Barn  Burning  5 

named  Harris:  "Do  you  want  me  to  question  this  boy?"  But 
he  could  hear,  and  during  those  subsequent  long  seconds 
while  there  was  absolutely  no  sound  in  the  crowded  little 
room  save  that  of  quiet  and  intent  breathing  it  was  as  if  he 
had  swung  outward  at  the  end  of  a  grape  vine,  over  a  ravine, 
and  at  the  top  of  the  swing  had  been  caught  in  a  prolonged 
instant  of  mesmerized  gravity,  weightless  in  time. 

"No!"  Harris  said  violently,  explosively.  "Damnation! 
Send  him  out  of  here!"  Now  time,  the  fluid  world,  rushed 
beneath  him  again,  the  voices  coming  to  him  again  through 
the  smell  of  cheese  and  sealed  meat,  the  fear  and  despair  and 
the  old  grief  of  blood: 

"This  case  is  closed.  I  can't  find  against  you,  Snopes,  but 
I  can  give  you  advice.  Leave  this  country  and  don't  come 
back  to  it." 

His  father  spoke  for  the  first  time,  his  voice  cold  and 
hai;sh,  level,  without  emphasis:  "I  aim  to.  I  don't  figure  to 
stay  in  a  country  among  people  who  .  .  ."  he  said  something 
unprintable  and  vile,  addressed  to  no  one. 

"That'll  do,"  the  Justice  said.  "Take  your  wagon  and  get 
out  of  this  country  before  dark.  Case  dismissed." 

His  father  turned,  and  he  followed  the  stiff  black  coat,  the 
wiry  figure  walking  a  little  stiffly  from  where  a  Confederate 
provost's  man's  musket  ball  had  taken  him  in  the  heel  on  a 
stolen  horse  thirty  years  ago,  followed  the  two  backs  now, 
since  his  older  brother  had  appeared  from  somewhere  in  the 
crowd,  no  taller  than  the  father  but  thicker,  chewing  tobacco 
steadily,  between  the  two  lines  of  grim-faced  men  and  out 
of  the  store  and  across  the  worn  gallery  and  down  the  sag- 
ging steps  and  among  the  dogs  and  half-grown  boys  in  the 
mild  May  dust,  where  as  he  passed  a  voice  hissed: 

"Barnburner!" 

Again  he  could  not  see,  whirling;  there  was  a  face  in  a  red 
haze,  moonlike,  bigger  than  the  full  moon,  the  owner  of  it 


6  The  Country 

half  again  his  size,  he  leaping  in  the  red  haze  toward  the  face, 
feeling  no  blow,  feeling  no  shock  when  his  head  struck  the 
earth,  scrabbling  up  and  leaping  again,  feeling  no  blow  this 
time  either  and  tasting  no  blood,  scrabbling  up  to  see  the 
other  boy  in  full  flight  and  himself  already  leaping  into  pur- 
suit as  his  father's  hand  jerked  him  back,  the  harsh,  cold 
voice  speaking  above  him:  "Go  get  in  the  wagon." 

It  stood  in  a  grove  of  locusts  and  mulberries  across  the 
road.  His  two  hulking  sisters  in  their  Sunday  dresses  and  his 
mother  and  her  sister  in  calico  and  sunbonnets  were  already 
in  it,  sitting  on  and  among  the  sorry  residue  of  the  dozen  and 
more  movings  which  even  the  boy  could  remember — the 
battered  stove,  the  broken  beds  and  chairs,  the  clock  inlaid 
with  mother-of-pearl,  which  would  not  run,  stopped  at 
some  fourteen  minutes  past  two  o'clock  of  a  dead  and  for- 
gotten day  and  time,  which  had  been  his  mother's  dowry. 
She  was  crying,  though  when  she  saw  him  she  drew  her 
sleeve  across  her  face  and  began  to  descend  from  the  wagon. 
"Get  back,"  the  father  said. 

"He's  hurt.  I  got  to  get  some  water  and  wash  his  .  .  ." 

"Get  back  in  the  wagon,"  his  father  said.  He  got  in  too, 
over  the  tail-gate.  His  father  mounted  to  the  seat  where  the 
older  brother  already  sat  and  struck  the  gaunt  mules  two 
savage  blows  with  the  peeled  willow,  but  without  heat.  It 
was  not  even  sadistic;  it  was  exactly  that  same  quality  which 
in  later  years  would  cause  his  descendants  to  over-run  the 
engine  before  putting  a  motor  car  into  motion,  striking  and 
reining  back  in  the  same  movement.  The  wagon  went  on, 
the  store  with  its  quiet  crowd  of  grimly  watching  men 
dropped  behind;  a  curve  in  the  road  hid  it.  Forever  he 
thought.  Maybe  he's  done  satisfied  now,  now  that  he  has  .  .  . 
stopping  himself,  not  to  say  it  aloud  even  to  himself.  His 
mother's  hand  touched  his  shoulder. 

"Does  hit  hurt?"  she  said. 


Barn  Burning  7 

"Naw,"  he  said.  "Hit  don't  hurt.  Lemme  be." 
"Can't  you  wipe  some  of  the  blood  off  before  hit  dries?" 
"I'll  wash  to-night,"  he  said.  "Lemme  be,  I  tell  you." 
The  Wagon  went  on.  He  did  not  know  where  they  were 
going.  None  of  them  ever  did  or  ever  asked,  because  it  was 
always  somewhere,  always  a  house  of  sorts  waiting  for  them 
a  day  or  two  days  or  even  three  days  away.  Likely  his  father 
had  already  arranged  to  make  a  crop  on  another  farm  before 
he  ...  Again  he  had  to  stop  himself.  He  (the  father)  always 
did.  There  was  something  about  his  wolflike  independence 
and  even  courage  when  the  advantage  was  at  least  neutral 
which  impressed  strangers,  as  if  they  got  from  his  latent 
ravening  ferocity  not  so  much  a  sense  of  dependability  as  a 
feeling  that  his  ferocious  conviction  in  the  rightness  of  his 
own  actions  would  be  of  advantage  to  all  whose  interest 
lay  with  his. 

That  night  they  camped,  in  a  grove  of  oaks  and  beeches 
where  a  spring  ran.  The  nights  were  still  cool  and  they  had 
a  fire  against  it,  of  a  rail  lifted  from  a  nearby  fence  and  cut 
into  lengths — a  small  fire,  neat,  niggard  almost,  a  shrewd 
fire;  such  fires  were  his  father's  habit  and  custom  always, 
even  in  freezing  weather.  Older,  the  boy  might  have  re- 
marked this  and  wondered  why  not  a  big  one;  why  should 
not  a  man  who  had  not  only  seen  the  waste  and  extravagance 
of  war,  but  who  had  in  his  blood  an  inherent  voracious 
prodigality  with  material  not  his  own,  have  burned  every- 
thing in  sight?  Then  he  might  have  gone  a  step  farther  and 
thought  that  that  was  the  reason:  that  niggard  blaze  was  the 
living  fruit  of  nights  passed  during  those  four  years  in  the 
woods  hiding  from  all  men,  blue  or  gray,  with  his  strings  of 
horses  (captured  horses,  he  called  them).  And  older  still,  he 
might  have  divined  the  true  reason:  that  the  element  of  fire 
spoke  to  some  deep  mainspring  of  his  father's  being,  as  the 
element  of  steel  or  of  powder  spoke  to  other  men,  as  the  one 


8  The  Country 

weapon  for  the  preservation  of  integrity,  else  breath  were 
not  worth  the  breathing,  and  hence  to  be  regarded  with 
respect  and  used  with  discretion. 

But  he  did  not  think  this  now  and  he  had  seen  those  same 
niggard  blazes  all  his  life.  He  merely  ate  his  supper  beside  it 
and  was  already  half  asleep  over  his  iron  plate  when  his 
father  called  him,  and  once  more  he  followed  the  stiff  back, 
the  stiff  and  ruthless  limp,  up  the  slope  and  on  to  the  starlit 
road  where,  turning,  he  could  see  his  father  against  the  stars 
but  without  face  or  depth — a  shape  black,  flat,  and  bloodless 
as  though  cut  from  tin  in  the  iron  folds  of  the  frockcoat 
which  had  not  been  made  for  him,  the  voice  harsh  like  tin 
and  without  heat  like  tin: 

"You  were  fixing  to  tell  them.  You  would  have  told  him." 
He  didn't  answer.  His  father  struck  him  with  the  flat  of  his 
hand  on  the  side  of  the  head,  hard  but  without  heat,  exactly 
as  he  had  struck  the  two  mules  at  the  store,  exactly  as  he 
would  strike  either  of  them  with  any  stick  in  order  to  kill 
a  horse  fly,  his  voice  still  without  heat  or  anger:  "You're 
getting  to  be  a  man.  You  got  to  learn.  You  got  to  learn  to 
stick  to  your  own  blood  or  you  ain't  going  to  have  any 
blood  to  stick  to  you.  Do  you  think  either  of  them,  any  man 
there  this  morning,  would?  Don't  you  know  all  they  wanted 
was  a  chance  to  get  at  me  because  they  knew  I  had  them 
beat?  Eh?"  Later,  twenty  years  later,  he  was  to  tell  himself, 
"If  I  had  said  they  wanted  only  truth,  justice,  he  would  have 
hit  me  again."  But  now  he  said  nothing.  He  was  not  crying. 
He  just  stood  there.  "Answer  me,"  his  father  said. 

"Yes,"  he  whispered.  His  father  turned. 

"Get  on  to  bed.  We'll  be  there  tomorrow." 

To-morrow  they  were  there.  In  the  early  afternoon  the 
wagon  stopped  before  a  paintless  two-room  house  identical 
almost  with  the  dozen  others  it  had  stopped  before  even  in 
the  boy's  ten  years,  and  again,  as  on  the  other  dozen  occa- 


Barn  Burning  9 

sions,  his  mother  and  aunt  got  down  and  began  to  unload  the 
wagon,  although  his  two  sisters  and  his  father  and  brother 
had  not  moved. 

"Likely  hit  ain't  fitten  for  hawgs,"  one  of  the  sisters  said. 

"Nevertheless,  fit  it  will  and  you'll  hog  it  and  like  it,"  his 
father  said.  "Get  out  of  them  chairs  and  help  your  Ma  un- 
load." 

The  two  sisters  got  down,  big,  bovine,  in  a  flutter  of 
cheap  ribbons;  one  of  them  drew  from  the  jumbled  wagon 
bed  a  battered  lantern,  the  other  a  worn  broom.  His  father 
handed  the  reins  to  the  older  son  and  began  to  climb  stiffly 
over  the  wheel.  "When  they  get  unloaded,  take  the  team  to 
the  barn  and  feed  them."  Then  he  said,  and  at  first  the  boy 
thought  he  was  still  speaking  to  his  brother:  "Come  with 


me." 


"Me?"  he  said. 

"Yes,"  his  father  said.  "You." 

'"Abner,"  his  mother  said.  His  father  paused  and  looked 
back — the  harsh  level  stare  beneath  the  shaggy,  graying, 
irascible  brows. 

"I  reckon  I'll  have  a  word  with  the  man  that  aims  to  begin 
to-morrow  owning  me  body  and  soul  for  the  next  eight 
months." 

They  went  back  up  the  road.  A  week  ago — or  before  last 
night,  that  is — he  would  have  asked  where  they  were  going, 
but  not  now.  His  father  had  struck  him  before  last  night 
but  never  before  had  he  paused  afterward  to  explain  why; 
it  was  as  if  the  blow  and  the  following  calm,  outrageous 
voice  still  rang,  repercussed,  divulging  nothing  to  him  save 
the  terrible  handicap  of  being  young,  the  light  weight  of  his 
few  years,  just  heavy  enough  to  prevent  his  soaring  free  of 
the  world  as  it  seemed  to  be  ordered  but  not  heavy  enough 
to  keep  him  footed  solid  in  it,  to  resist  it  and  try  to  change 
the  course  of  its  events. 


io  The  Country 

Presently  he  could  see  the  grove  of  oaks  and  cedars  and 
the  other  flowering  trees  and  shrubs  where  the  house  would 
be,  though  not  the  house  yet.  They  walked  beside  a  fence 
massed  with  honeysuckle  and  Cherokee  roses  and  came  to  a 
gate  swinging  open  between  two  brick  pillars,  and  now, 
beyond  a  sweep  of  drive,  he  saw  the  house  for  the  first  time 
and  at  that  instant  he  forgot  his  father  and  the  terror  and 
despair  both,  and  even  when  he  remembered  his  father  again 
(who  had  not  stopped)  the  terror  and  despair  did  not  re- 
turn. Because,  for  all  the  twelve  movings,  they  had  sojourned 
until  now  in  a  poor  country,  a  land  of  small  farms  and  fields 
and  houses,  and  he  had  never  seen  a  house  like  this  before. 
Hit's  big  as  a  courthouse  he  thought  quietly,  with  a  surge 
of  peace  and  joy  whose  reason  he  could  not  have  thought 
into  words,  being  too  young  for  that:  They  are  safe  from 
him.  People  'whose  lives  are  a  part  of  this  peace  and  dignity 
are  beyond  his  touch,  he  no  more  to  them  than  a  buzzing 
wasp:  capable  of  stinging  for  a  little  moment  but  that's  all; 
the  spell  of  this  peace  and  dignity  rendering  even  the  barns 
and  stable  and  cribs  which  belong  to  it  impervious  to  the 
puny  flames  he  might  contrive  .  .  .  this,  the  peace  and  joy, 
ebbing  for  an  instant  as  he  looked  again  at  the  stiff  black 
back,  the  stiff  and  implacable  limp  of  the  figure  which  was 
not  dwarfed  by  the  house,  for  the  reason  that  it  had  never 
looked  big  anywhere  and  which  now,  against  the  serene 
columned  backdrop,  had  more  than  ever  that  impervious 
quality  of  something  cut  ruthlessly  from  tin,  depthless,  as 
though,  sidewise  to  the  sun,  it  would  cast  no  shadow.  Watch- 
ing him,  the  boy  remarked  the  absolutely  undeviating  course 
which  his  father  held  and  saw  the  stiff  foot  come  squarely 
down  in  a  pile  of  fresh  droppings  where  a  horse  had  stood 
in  the  drive  and  which  his  father  could  have  avoided  by  a 
simple  change  of  stride.  But  it  ebbed  only  for  a  moment, 
though  he  could  not  have  thought  this  into  words  either, 


Barn  Burning  L  i 

walking  on  in  the  spell  of  the  house,  which  he  could  even 
want  but  without  envy,  without  sorrow,  certainly  never 
with  that  ravening  and  jealous  rage  which  unknown  to  him 
walked  in  the  ironlike  black  coat  before  him:  Maybe  be  will 
feel  it  too.  Maybe  it  'will  even  change  him  now  from  'what 
maybe  he  couldn't  help  but  be. 

They  crossed  the  portico.  Now  he  could  hear  his  father's 
stiff  foot  as  it  came  down  on  the  boards  with  clocklike  final- 
ity, a  sound  out  of  all  proportion  to  the  displacement  of  the 
body  it  bore  and  which  was  not  dwarfed  either  by  the  white 
door  before  it,  as  though  it  had  attained  to  a  sort  of  vicious 
and  ravening  minimum  not  to  be  dwarfed  by  anything — the 
fiat,  wide,  black  hat,  the  formal  coat  of  broadcloth  which  had 
once  been  black  but  which  had  now  that  friction-glazed 
greenish  cast  of  the  bodies  of  old  house  flies,  the  lifted  sleeve 
which  was  too  large,  the  lifted  hand  like  a  curled  claw.  The 
door  opened  so  promptly  that  the  boy  knew  the  Negro  must 
have  been  watching  them  all  the  time,  an  old  man  with  neat 
grizzled  hair,  in  a  linen  jacket,  who  stood  barring  the  door 
with  his  body,  saying,  "Wipe  yo  foots,  white  man,  fo  you 
come  in  here.  Major  ain't  home  nohow." 

"Get  out  of  my  way,  nigger,"  his  father  said,  without 
heat  too,  flinging  the  door  back  and  the  Negro  also  and 
entering,  his  hat  still  on  his  head.  And  now  the  boy  saw  the 
prints  of  the  stiff  foot  on  the  door  jamb  and  saw  them  appear 
on  the  pale  rug  behind  the  machinelike  deliberation  of  the 
foot  which  seemed  to  bear  (or  transmit)  twice  the  weight 
which  the  body  compassed.  The  Negro  was  shouting  "Miss 
Lula!  Miss  Lula!"  somewhere  behind  them,  then  the  boy, 
deluged  as  though  by  a  warm  wave  by  a  suave  turn  of 
carpeted  stair  and  a  pendant  glitter  of  chandeliers  and  a  mute 
gleam  of  gold  frames,  heard  the  swift  feet  and  saw  her  too, 
a  lady — perhaps  he  had  never  seen  her  like  before  either — 
in  a  gray,  smooth  gown  with  lace  at  the  throat  and  an  apron 


12  The  Country 

tied  at  the  waist  and  the  sleeves  turned  back,  wiping  cake  or 
biscuit  dough  from  her  hands  with  a  towel  as  she  came  up 
the  hall,  looking  not  at  his  father  at  all  but  at  the  tracks  on 
the  blond  rug  with  an  expression  of  incredulous  amazement. 

"I  tried,"  the  Negro  cried.  "I  tole  him  to  .  .  ." 

"Will  you  please  go  away?"  she  said  in  a  shaking  voice. 
"Major  de  Spain  is  not  at  home.  Will  you  please  go  away?" 

His  father  had  not  spoken  again.  He  did  not  speak  again. 
He  did  not  even  look  at  her.  He  just  stood  stiff  in  the  center 
of  the  rug,  in  his  hat,  the  shaggy  iron-gray  brows  twitching 
slightly  above  the  pebble-colored  eyes  as  he  appeared  to 
examine  the  house  with  brief  deliberation.  Then  with  the 
same  deliberation  he  turned;  the  boy  watched  him  pivot  on 
the  good  leg  and  saw  the  stiff  foot  drag  round  the  arc  of 
the  turning,  leaving  a  final  long  and  fading  smear.  His  father 
never  looked  at  it,  he  never  once  looked  down  at  the  rug. 
The  Negro  held  the  door.  It  closed  behind  them,  upon  the 
hysteric  and  indistinguishable  woman-wail.  His  father 
stopped  at  the  top  of  the  steps  and  scraped  his  boot  clean  on 
the  edge  of  it.  At  the  gate  he  stopped  again.  He  stood  for 
a  moment,  planted  stiffly  on  the  stiff  foot,  looking  back  at 
the  house.  "Pretty  and  white,  ain't  it?"  he  said.  "That's 
sweat.  Nigger  sweat.  Maybe  it  ain't  white  enough  yet  to 
suit  him.  Maybe  he  wants  to  mix  some  white  sweat  with  it." 

Two  hours  later  the  boy  was  chopping  wood  behind  the 
house  within  which  his  mother  and  aunt  and  the  two  sisters 
(the  mother  and  aunt,  not  the  two  girls,  he  knew  that;  even 
at  this  distance  and  muffled  by  walls  the  flat  loud  voices  of 
the  two  girls  emanated  an  incorrigible  idle  inertia)  were 
setting  up  the  stove  to  prepare  a  meal,  when  he  heard  the 
hooves  and  saw  the  linen-clad  man  on  a  fine  sorrel  mare, 
whom  he  recognized  even  before  he  saw  the  rolled  rug  in 
front  of  the  Negro  youth  following  on  a  fat  bay  carriage 
horse — a  suffused,  angry  face  vanishing,  still  at  full  gallop, 


Barn  Burning  13 

beyond  the  corner  of  the  house  where  his  father  and  brother 
were  sitting  in  the  two  tilted  chairs;  and  a  moment  later, 
almost  before  he  could  have  put  the  axe  down,  he  heard  the 
hooves  again  and  watched  the  sorrel  mare  go  back  out  of 
the  yard,  already  galloping  again.  Then  his  father  began  to 
shout  one  of  the  sisters'  names,  who  presently  emerged  back- 
ward from  the  kitchen  door  dragging  the  rolled  rug  along 
the  ground  by  one  end  while  the  other  sister  walked  behind 
it. 

"If  you  ain't  going  to  tote,  go  on  and  set  up  the  wash 
pot,"  the  first  said. 

"You,  Sarty!"  the  second  shouted.  "Set  up  the  wash  pot!" 
His  father  appeared  at  the  door,  framed  against  that  shabbi- 
ness,  as  he  had  been  against  that  other  bland  perfection,  im- 
pervious to  either,  the  mother's  anxious  face  at  his  shoulder. 

"Go  on,"  the  father  said.  "Pick  it  up."  The  two  sisters 
stooped,  broad,  lethargic;  stooping,  they  presented  an  in- 
credible expanse  of  pale  cloth  and  a  flutter  of  tawdry  rib- 
bons. 

"If  I  thought  enough  of  a  rug  to  have  to  git  hit  all  the 
way  from  France  I  wouldn't  keep  hit  where  folks  coming  in 
would  have  to  tromp  on  hit,"  the  first  said.  They  raised  the 
rug. 

"Abner,"  the  mother  said.  "Let  me  do  it." 

"You  go  back  and  git  dinner,"  his  father  said.  "I'll  tend  to 
this." 

From  the  woodpile  through  the  rest  of  the  afternoon  the 
boy  watched  them,  the  rug  spread  flat  in  the  dust  beside  the 
bubbling  wash-pot,  the  two  sisters  stooping  over  it  with  that 
profound  and  lethargic  reluctance,  while  the  father  stood 
over  them  in  turn,  implacable  and  grim,  driving  them 
though  never  raising  his  voice  again.  He  could  smell  the 
harsh  homemade  lye  they  were  using;  he  saw  his  mother 
come  to  the  door  once  and  look  toward  them  with  an  ex- 


14  The  Country 

pression  not  anxious  now  but  very  like  despair;  he  saw  his 
father  turn,  and  he  fell  to  with  the  axe  and  .saw  from  the 
corner  of  his  eye  his  father  raise  from  the  ground  a  flattish 
fragment  of  field  stone  and  examine  it  and  return  to  the  pot, 
and  this  time  his  mother  actually  spoke:  "Abner.  Abner. 
Please  don't.  Please,  Abner." 

Then  he  was  done  too.  It  was  dusk;  the  whippoorwills  had 
already  begun.  He  could  smell  coffee  from  the  room  where 
they  would  presently  eat  the  cold  food  remaining  from  the 
mid-afternoon  meal,  though  when  he  entered  the  house  he 
realized  they  were  having  coffee  again  probably  because 
there  was  a  fire  on  the  hearth,  before  which  the  rug  now  lay 
spread  over  the  backs  of  the  two  chairs.  The  tracks  of  his 
father's  foot  were  gone.  Where  they  had  been  were  now 
long,  water-cloudy  scoriations  resembling  the  sporadic 
course  of  a  lilliputian  mowing  machine. 

It  still  hung  there  while  they  ate  the  cold  food  and  then 
went  to  bed,  scattered  without  order  or  claim  up  and  down 
the  two  rooms,  his  mother  in  one  bed,  where  his  father 
would  later  lie,  the  older  brother  in  the  other,  himself,  the 
aunt,  and  the  two  sisters  on  pallets  on  the  floor.  But  his 
father  was  not  in  bed  yet.  The  last  thing  the  boy  remem- 
bered was  the  depthless,  harsh  silhouette  of  the  hat  and  coat 
bending  over  the  rug  and  it  seemed  to  him  that  he  had  not 
even  closed  his  eyes  when  the  silhouette  was  standing  over 
him,  the  fire  almost  dead  behind  it,  the  stiff  foot  prodding 
him  awake.  "Catch  up  the  mule,"  his  father  said. 

When  he  returned  with  the  mule  his  father  was  standing 
in  the  black  door,  the  rolled  rug  over  his  shoulder.  " Ain't 
you  going  to  ride?"  he  said. 

"No.  Give  me  your  foot." 

He  bent  his  knee  into  his  father's  hand,  the  wiry,  surpris- 
ing power  flowed  smoothly,  rising,  he  rising  with  it,  on  to  the 
mule's  bare  back  (they  had  owned  a  saddle  once;  the  boy 


Barn  Burning  15 

could  remember  it  though  not  when  or  where)  and  with  the 
same  effortlessness  his  father  swung  the  rug  up  in  front  of 
him.  Now  in  the  starlight  they  retraced  the  afternoon's  path, 
up  the  dusty  road  rife  with  honeysuckle,  through  the  gate 
and  up  the  black  tunnel  of  the  drive  to  the  lightless  house, 
where  he  sat  on  the  mule  and  felt  the  rough  warp  of  the  rug 
drag  across  his  thighs  and  vanish. 

"Don't  you  'want  me  to  help?"  he  whispered.  His  father 
did  not  answer  and  now  he  heard  again  that  stiff  foot  strik- 
ing the  hollow  portico  with  that  wooden  and  clocklike  de- 
liberation, that  outrageous  overstatement  of  the  weight  it 
carried.  The  rug,  hunched,  not  flung  (the  boy  could  tell 
that  even  in  the  darkness)  from  his  father's  shoulder  struck 
the  angle  of  wall  and  floor  with  a  sound  unbelievably  loud, 
thunderous,  then  the  foot  again,  unhurried  and  enormous;  a 
light  came  on  in  the  house  and  the  boy  sat,  tense,  breathing 
steadily  and  quietly  and  just  a  little  fast,  though  the  foot 
itself  did  not  increase  its  beat  at  all,  descending  the  steps 
now;  now  the  boy  could  see  him. 

"Don't  you  want  to  ride  now?"  he  whispered.  "We  kin 
both  ride  now,"  the  light  within  the  house  altering  now, 
flaring  up  and  sinking.  He's  coming  down  the  stairs  no<w, 
he  thought.  He  had  already  ridden  the  mule  up  beside  the 
horse  block;  presently  his  father  was  up  behind  him  and  he 
doubled  the  reins  over  and  slashed  the  mule  across  the  neck, 
but  before  the  animal  could  begin  to  trot  the  hard,  thin  arm 
came  round  him,  the  hard,  knotted  hand  jerking  the  mule 
back  to  a  walk. 

In  the  first  red  rays  of  the  sun  they  were  in  the  lot,  putting 
plow  gear  on  the  mules.  This  time  the  sorrel  mare  was  in  the 
lot  before  he  heard  it  at  all,  the  rider  collarless  and  even 
bareheaded,  trembling,  speaking  in  a  shaking  voice  as  the 
woman  in  the  house  had  done,  his  father  merely  looking  up 


1 6  The  Country 

once  before  stooping  again  to  the  hame  he  was  buckling,  so 
that  the  man  on  the  mare  spoke  to  his  stooping  back: 

"You  must  realize  you  have  ruined  that  rug.  Wasn't  there 
anybody  here,  any  of  your  women  .  .  ."  he  ceased,  shaking, 
the  boy  watching  him,  the  older  brother  leaning  now  in  the 
stable  door,  chewing,  blinking  slowly  and  steadily  at  nothing 
apparently.  "It  cost  a  hundred  dollars.  But  you  never  had  a 
hundred  dollars.  You  never  will.  So  I'm  going  to  charge  you 
twenty  bushels  of  corn  against  your  crop.  I'll  add  it  in  your 
contract  and  when  you  come  to  the  commissary  you  can 
sign  it.  That  won't  keep  Mrs.  de  Spain  quiet  but  maybe  it 
will  teach  you  to  wipe  your  feet  off  before  you  enter  her 
house  again." 

Then  he  was  gone.  The  boy  looked  at  his  father,  who  still 
had  not  spoken  or  even  looked  up  again,  who  was  now  ad- 
justing the  logger-head  in  the  hame. 

"Pap,"  he  said.  His  father  looked  at  him — the  inscrutable 
face,  the  shaggy  brows  beneath  which  the  gray  eyes  glinted 
coldly.  Suddenly  the  boy  went  toward  him,  fast,  stopping 
as  suddenly.  "You  done  the  best  you  could!"  he  cried.  "If 
he  wanted  hit  done  different  why  didn't  he  wait  and  tell 
you  how?  He  won't  git  no  twenty  bushels!  He  won't  git 
none!  We'll  gether  hit  and  hide  hit!  I  kin  watch  .  .  ." 

"Did  you  put  the  cutter  back  in  that  straight  stock  like 
I  told  you?" 

"No,  sir,"  he  said. 

"Then  go  do  it." 

That  was  Wednesday.  During  the  rest  of  that  week  he 
\vorked  steadily,  at  what  was  within  his  scope  and  some 
\vhich  was  beyond  it,  with  an  industry  that  did  not  need  to 
be  driven  nor  even  commanded  twice;  he  had  this  from  his 
mother,  with  the  difference  that  some  at  least  of  what  he 
did  he  liked  to  do,  such  as  splitting  wood  with  the  half-size 
axe  which  his  mother  and  aunt  had  earned,  or  saved  money 


Barn  Burning  \j 

somehow,  to  present  him  with  at  Christmas.  In  company 
with  the  two  older  women  (and  on  one  afternoon,  even  one 
of  the  sisters) ,  he  built  pens  for  the  shoat  and  the  cow  which 
were  a  part  of  his  father's  contract  with  the  landlord,  and 
one  afternoon,  his  father  being  absent,  gone  somewhere  on 
one  of  the  mules,  he  went  to  the  field. 

They  were  running  a  middle  buster  now,  his  brother 
holding  the  plow  straight  while  he  handled  the  reins,  and 
walking  beside  the  straining  mule,  the  rich  black  soil  shear- 
ing cool  and  damp  against  his  bare  ankles,  he  thought  Maybe 
this  is  the  end  of  it.  Maybe  even  that  twenty  bushels  that 
seems  hard  to  have  to  pay  for  just  a  rug  'will  be  a  cheap  price 
for  him  to  stop  forever  and  always  from  being  what  he  used 
to  be;  thinking,  dreaming  now,  so  that  his  brother  had  to 
speak  sharply  to  him  to  mind  the  mule:  Maybe  he  even 
won't  collect  the  twenty  bushels.  Maybe  it  will  all  add  up 
and  balance  and  vanish — corn,  rug,  fire;  the  terror  and  grief, 
the  being  pulled  two  ways  like  between  two  teams  of  horses 
— gone,  done  with  for  ever  and  ever. 

Then  it  was  Saturday;  he  looked  up  from  beneath  the 
mule  he  was  harnessing  and  saw  his  father  in  the  black  coat 
and  hat.  "Not  that,"  his  father  said.  "The  wagon  gear." 
And  then,  two  hours  later,  sitting  in  the  wagon  bed  behind 
his  father  and  brother  on  the  seat,  the  wagon  accomplished 
a  final  curve,  and  he  saw  the  weathered  paintless  store  with 
its  tattered  tobacco-  and  patent-medicine  posters  and  the 
tethered  wagons  and  saddle  animals  below  the  gallery.  He 
mounted  the  gnawed  steps  behind  his  father  and  brother, 
and  there  again  was  the  lane  of  quiet,  watching  faces  for  the 
three  of  them  to  walk  through.  He  saw  the  man  in  spec- 
tacles sitting  at  the  plank  table  and  he  did  not  need  to  be 
told  this  was  a  Justice  of  the  Peace;  he  sent  one  glare  of 
fierce,  exultant,  partisan  defiance  at  the  man  in  collar  and 
cravat  now,  whom  he  had  seen  but  twice  before  in  his  life, 


1 8  The  Country 

and  that  on  a  galloping  horse,  who  now  wore  on  his  face 
an  expression  not  of  rage  but  of  amazed  unbelief  which  the 
boy  could  not  have  known  was  at  the  incredible  circum- 
stance of  being  sued  by  one  of  his  own  tenants,  and  came 
and  stood  against  his  father  and  cried  at  the  Justice:  "He 
ain't  done  it!  He  ain't  burnt  .  .  ." 

"Go  back  to  the  wagon,"  his  father  said. 

''Burnt?"  the  Justice  said.  "Do  I  understand  this  rug  was 
burned  too?" 

"Does  anybody  here  claim  it  was?"  his  father  said.  "Go 
back  to  the  wagon."  But  he  did  not,  he  merely  retreated  to 
the  rear  of  the  room,  crowded  as  that  other  had  been,  but 
not  to  sit  down  this  time,  instead,  to  stand  pressing  among 
the  motionless  bodies,  listening  to  the  voices: 

"And  you  claim  twenty  bushels  of  corn  is  too  high  for 
the  damage  you  did  to  the  rug?" 

"He  brought  the  rug  to  me  and  said  he  wanted  the  tracks 
washed  out  of  it.  I  washed  the  tracks  out  and  took  the  rug 
back  to  him." 

"But  you  didn't  carry  the  rug  back  to  him  in  the  same 
condition  it  was  in  before  you  made  the  tracks  on  it." 

His  father  did  not  answer,  and  now  for  perhaps  half  a 
minute  there  was  no  sound  at  all  save  that  of  breathing,  the 
faint,  steady  suspiration  of  complete  and  intent  listening. 

"You  decline  to  answer  that,  Mr.  Snopes?"  Again  his 
father  did  not  answer.  "I'm  going  to  find  against  you,  Mr. 
Snopes.  I'm  going  to  find  that  you  were  responsible  for  the 
injury  to  Major  de  Spain's  rug  and  hold  you  liable  for  it. 
But  twenty  bushels  of  corn  seems  a  little  high  for  a  man  in 
your  circumstances  to  have  to  pay.  Major  de  Spain  claims  it 
cost  a  hundred  dollars.  October  corn  will  be  worth  about 
fifty  cents.  I  figure  that  if  Major  de  Spain  can  stand  a  ninety- 
five  dollar  loss  on  something  he  paid  cash  for,  you  can  stand 
a  five-dollar  loss  you  haven't  earned  yet.  I  hold  you  in  dam- 


Barn  Burning  19 

ages  to  Major  de  Spain  to  the  amount  of  ten  bushels  of  corn 
over  and  above  your  contract  with  him,  to  be  paid  to  him 
out  of  your  crop  at  gathering  time.  Court  adjourned." 

It  had  taken  no  time  hardly,  the  morning  was  but  half 
begun.  He  thought  they  would  return  home  and  perhaps 
back  to  the  field,  since  they  were  late,  far  behind  all  other 
farmers.  But  instead  his  father  passed  on  behind  the  wagon, 
merely  indicating  with  his  hand  for  the  older  brother  to 
follow  with  it,  and  crossed  the  road  toward  the  blacksmith 
shop  opposite,  pressing  on  after  his  father,  overtaking  him, 
speaking,  whispering  up  at  the  harsh,  calm  face  beneath  the 
weathered  hat:  "He  won't  git  no  ten  bushels  neither.  He 
won't  git  one.  We'll  .  .  ."  until  his  father  glanced  for  an 
instant  down  at  him,  the  face  absolutely  calm,  the  grizzled 
eyebrows  tangled  above  the  cold  eyes,  the  voice  almost 
pleasant,  almost  gentle: 

"You  think  so?  Well,  we'll  wait  till  October  anyway." 

The  matter  of  the  wagon — the  setting  of  a  spoke  or  two 
and  the  tightening  of  the  tires — did  not  take  long  either,  the 
business  of  the  tires  accomplished  by  driving  the  wagon  into 
the  spring  branch  behind  the  shop  and  letting  it  stand  there, 
the  mules  nuzzling  into  the  water  from  time  to  time,  and  the 
boy  on  the  seat  with  the  idle  reins,  looking  up  the  slope  and 
through  the  sooty  tunnel  of  the  shed  where  the  slow  ham- 
mer rang  and  where  his  father  sat  on  an  upended  cypress 
bolt,  easily,  either  talking  or  listening,  still  sitting  there  when 
the  boy  brought  the  dripping  wagon  up  out  of  the  branch 
and  halted  it  before  the  door. 

"Take  them  on  to  the  shade  and  hitch,"  his  father  said. 
He  did  so  and  returned.  His  father  and  the  smith  and  a  third 
man  squatting  on  his  heels  inside  the  door  were  talking, 
about  crops  and  animals;  the  boy,  squatting  too  in  the  am- 
moniac dust  and  hoof-parings  and  scales  of  rust,  heard  his 
father  tell  a  long  and  unhurried  story  out  of  the  time  before 


20  The  Country 

the  birth  of  the  older  brother  even  when  he  had  been  a  pro- 
fessional horsetrader.  And  then  his  father  came  up  beside 
him  where  he  stood  before  a  tattered  last  year's  circus  poster 
on  the  other  side  of  the  store,  gazing  rapt  and  quiet  at  the 
scarlet  horses,  the  incredible  poisings  and  convolutions  of 
tulle  and  tights  and  the  painted  leers  of  comedians,  and  said, 
"It's  time  to  eat." 

But  not  at  home.  Squatting  beside  his  brother  against  the 
front  wall,  he  watched  his  father  emerge  from  the  store  and 
produce  from  a  paper  sack  a  segment  of  cheese  and  divide  it 
carefully  and  deliberately  into  three  with  his  pocket  knife 
and  produce  crackers  from  the  same  sack.  They  all  three 
squatted  on  the  gallery  and  ate,  slowly,  without  talking; 
then  in  the  store  again,  they  drank  from  a  tin  dipper  tepid 
water  smelling  of  the  cedar  bucket  and  of  living  beech  trees. 
And  still  they  did  not  go  home.  It  was  a  horse  lot  this  time, 
a  tall  rail  fence  upon  and  along  which  men  stood  and  sat 
and  out  of  which  one  by  one  horses  were  led,  to  be  walked 
and  trotted  and  then  cantered  back  and  forth  along  the  road 
while  the  slow  swapping  and  buying  went  on  and  the  sun 
began  to  slant  westward,  they — the  three  of  them — watch- 
ing and  listening,  the  older  brother  with  his  muddy  eyes  and 
his  steady,  inevitable  tobacco,  the  father  commenting  now 
and  then  on  certain  of  the  animals,  to  no  one  in  particular. 

It  was  after  sundown  when  they  reached  home.  They  ate 
supper  by  lamplight,  then,  sitting  on  the  doorstep,  the  boy 
watched  the  night  fully  accomplish,  listening  to  the  whip- 
poorwills  and  the  frogs,  when  he  heard  his  mother's  voice: 
"Abner!  No!  No!  Oh,  God.  Oh,  God.  Abner!"  and  he  rose, 
whirled,  and  saw  the  altered  light  through  the  door  where 
a  candle  stub  now  burned  in  a  bottle  neck  on  the  table  and 
his  father,  still  in  the  hat  and  coat,  at  once  formal  and  bur- 
lesque as  though  dressed  carefully  for  some  shabby  and 
ceremonial  violence,  emptying  the  reservoir  of  the  lamp 


Barn  Burning  2 1 

back  into  the  five-gallon  kerosene  can  from  which  it  had 
been  filled,  while  the  mother  tugged  at  his  arm  until  he 
shifted  the  lamp  to  the  other  hand  and  flung  her  back,  not 
savagely  or  viciously,  just  hard,  into  the  wall,  her  hands 
flung  out  against  the  wall  for  balance,  her  mouth  open  and 
in  her  face  the  same  quality  of  hopeless  despair  as  had  been 
in. her  voice.  Then  his  father  saw  him  standing  in  the  door. 

"Go  to  the  barn  and  get  that  can  of  oil  we  were  oiling 
the  wagon  with,"  he  said.  The  boy  did  not  move.  Then  he 
could  speak. 

"What  .  .  ."  he  cried.  "What  are  you  .  .  ." 

"Go  get  that  oil,"  his  father  said.  "Go." 

Then  he  was  moving,  running,  outside  the  house,  toward 
the  stable:  this  the  old  habit,  the  old  blood  which  he  had  not 
been  permitted  to  choose  for  himself,  which  had  been  be- 
queathed him  willy  nilly  and  which  had  run  for  so  long 
(and  who  knew  where,  battening  on  what  of  outrage  and 
savagery  and  lust)  before  it  came  to  him.  /  could  keep  on, 
he  thought.  /  could  run  on  and  on  and  never  look  back, 
never  need  to  see  his  face  again.  Only  I  carft.  I  can't,  the 
rusted  can  in  his  hand  now,  the  liquid  sploshing  in  it  as  he 
ran  back  to  the  house  and  into  it,  into  the  sound  of  his 
mother's  weeping  in  the  next  room,  and  handed  the  can  to 
his  father. 

"Ain't  you  going  to  even  send  a  nigger?"  he  cried.  "At 
least  you  sent  a  nigger  before!" 

This  time  his  father  didn't  strike  him.  The  hand  came 
even  faster  than  the  blow  had,  the  same  hand  which  had  set 
the  can  on  the  table  with  almost  excruciating  care  flashing 
from  the  can  toward  him  too  quick  for  him  to  follow  it, 
gripping  him  by  the  back  of  his  shirt  and  on  to  tiptoe  before 
he  had  seen  it  quit  the  can,  the  face  stooping  at  him  in 
breathless  and  frozen  ferocity,  the  cold,  dead  voice  speaking 
over  him  to  the  older  brother  who  leaned  against  the  table. 


22  The  Country 

chewing  with  that  steady,  curious,  sidewise  motion  of  cows: 

"Empty  the  can  into  the  big  one  and  go  on.  I'll  catch  up 
with  you/' 

"Better  tie  him  up  to  the  bedpost,"  the  brother  said. 

"Do  like  I  told  you,"  the  father  said.  Then  the  boy  was 
moving,  his  bunched  shirt  and  the  hard,  bony  hand  between 
his  shoulder-blades,  his  toes  just  touching  the  floor,  across 
the  room  and  into  the  other  one,  past  the  sisters  sitting  with 
spread  heavy  thighs  in  the  two  chairs  over  the  cold  hearth, 
and  to  where  his  mother  and  aunt  sat  side  by  side  on  the 
bed,  the  aunt's  arms  about  his  mother's  shoulders. 

"Hold  him,"  the  father  said.  The  aunt  made  a  startled 
movement.  "Not  you,"  the  father  said.  "Lennie.  Take  hold 
of  him.  I  want  to  see  you  do  it."  His  mother  took  him  by  the 
wrist.  "You'll  hold  him  better  than  that.  If  he  gets  loose 
don't  you  know  what  he  is  going  to  do?  He  will  go  up 
yonder."  He  jerked  his  head  toward  the  road.  "Maybe  I'd 
better  tie  him." 

"I'll  hold  him,"  his  mother  whispered. 

"See  you  do  then."  Then  his  father  was  gone,  the  stiff 
foot  heavy  and  measured  upon  the  boards,  ceasing  at  last. 

Then  he  began  to  struggle.  His  mother  caught  him  in 
both  arms,  he  jerking  and  wrenching  at  them.  He  would  be 
stronger  in  the  end,  he  knew  that.  But  he  had  no  time  to  wait 
for  it.  "Lemme  go!"  he  cried.  "I  don't  want  to  have  to  hit 
you!" 

"Let  him  go!"  the  aunt  said.  "If  he  don't  go,  before  God, 
I  am  going  up  there  myself! " 

"Don't  you  see  I  can't?"  his  mother  cried.  "Sarty!  Sarty! 
No!  No!  Help  me,  Lizzie!" 

Then  he  was  free.  His  aunt  grasped  at  him  but  it  was  too 
late.  He  whirled,  running,  his  mother  stumbled  forward  on 
to  her  knees  behind  him,  crying  to  the  nearer  sister:  "Catch 
him,  Net!  Catch  him!"  But  that  was  too  late  too,  the  sister 


Barn  Burning  23 

(the  sisters  were  twins,  born  at  the  same  time,  yet  either  of 
them  now  gave  the  impression  of  being,  encompassing  as 
much  living  meat  and  volume  and  weight  as  any  other  two 
of  the  family)  not  yet  having  begun  to  rise  from  the  chair, 
her  head,  face,  alone  merely  turned,  presenting  to  him  in 
the  flying  instant  an  astonishing  expanse  of  young  female 
features  untroubled  by  any  surprise  even,  wearing  only  an 
expression  of  bovine  interest.  Then  he  was  out  of  the  room, 
out  of  the  house,  in  the  mild  dust  of  the  starlit  road  and  the 
heavy  rifeness  of  honeysuckle,  the  pale  ribbon  unspooling 
with  terrific  slowness  under  his  running  feet,  reaching  the 
gate  at  last  and  turning  in,  running,  his  heart  and  lungs 
drumming,  on  up  the  drive  toward  the  lighted  house,  the 
lighted  door.  He  did  not  knock,  he  burst  in,  sobbing  for 
breath,  incapable  for  the  moment  of  speech;  he  saw  the 
astonished  face  of  the  Negro  in  the  linen  jacket  without 
knowing  when  the  Negro  had  appeared. 

"De  Spain!"  he  cried,  panted.  "Where's  .  .  ."  then  he  saw 
the  white  man  too  emerging  from  a  white  door  down  the 
hall.  "Barn!"  he  cried.  "Barn!" 

"What?"  the  white  man  said.  "Barn?" 

"Yes!"  the  boy  cried.  "Barn!" 

"Catch  him!"  the  white  man  shouted. 

But  it  was  too  late  this  time  too.  The  Negro  grasped  his 
shirt,  but  the  entire  sleeve,  rotten  with  washing,  carried 
away,  and  he  was  out  that  door  too  and  in  the  drive  again, 
and  had  actually  never  ceased  to  run  even  while  he  was 
screaming  into  the  white  man's  face. 

Behind  him  the  white  man  was  shouting,  "My  horse! 
Fetch  my  horse!"  and  he  thought  for  an  instant  of  cutting 
across  the  park  and  climbing  the  fence  into  the  road,  but  he 
did  not  know  the  park  nor  how  high  the  vine-massed  fence 
might  be  and  he  dared  not  risk  it.  So  he  n»n  on  down  the 
drive,  blood  and  breath  roaring;  presently  he  was  in  the 


24  The  Country 

road  again  though  he  could  not  see  it.  He  could  not  hear 
either:  the  galloping  mare  was  almost  upon  him  before  he 
heard  her,  and  even  then  he  held  his  course,  as  if  the  very 
urgency  of  his  wild  grief  and  need  must  in  a  moment  more 
find  him  wings,  waiting  until  the  ultimate  instant  to  hurl 
himself  aside  and  into  the  weed-choked  roadside  ditch  as  the 
horse  thundered  past  and  on,  for  an  instant  in  furious  sil- 
houette against  the  stars,  the  tranquil  early  summer  night  sky 
which,  even  before  the  shape  of  the  horse  and  rider  vanished, 
stained  abruptly  and  violently  upward:  a  long,  swirling  roar 
incredible  and  soundless,  blotting  the  stars,  and  he  springing 
up  and  into  the  road  again,  running  again,  knowing  it  was 
too  late  yet  still  running  even  after  he  heard  the  shot  and, 
an  instant  later,  two  shots,  pausing  now  without  knowing  he 
had  ceased  to  run,  crying  "Pap!  Pap!",  running  again  before 
he  knew  he  had  begun  to  run,  stumbling,  tripping  over  some- 
thing and  scrabbling  up  again  without  ceasing  to  run,  look- 
ing backward  over  his  shoulder  at  the  glare  as  he  got  up, 
running  on  among  the  invisible  trees,  panting,  sobbing, 
"Father!  Father!" 

At  midnight  he  was  sitting  on  the  crest  of  a  hill.  He  did 
not  know  it  was  midnight  and  he  did  not  know  how  far  he 
had  come.  But  there  was  no  glare  behind  him  now  and  he 
sat  now,  his  back  toward  what  he  had  called  home  for  four 
days  anyhow,  his  face  toward  the  dark  woods  which  he 
would  enter  when  breath  was  strong  again,  small,  shaking 
steadily  in  the  chill  darkness,  hugging  himself  into  the  re- 
mainder of  his  thin,  rotten  shirt,  the  grief  and  despair  now  no 
longer  terror  and  fear  but  just  grief  and  despair.  Father. 
My  father,  he  thought.  "He  was  brave!"  he  cried  suddenly, 
aloud  but  not  loud,  no  more  than  a  whisper:  "He  was!  He 
was  in  the  war!  He  was  in  Colonel  Sartoris'  cav'ry!"  not 
knowing  that  his  father  had  gone  to  that  war  a  private  in 
the  fine  old  European  sense,  wearing  no  uniform,  admitting 


Barn  Burning  25 

the  authority  of  and  giving  fidelity  to  no  man  or  army  or 
flag,  going  to  war  as  Malbrouck  himself  did:  for  booty — it 
meant  nothing  and  less  than  nothing  to  him  if  it  were  enemy 
booty  or  his  own. 

The  slow  constellations  wheeled  on.  It  would  be  dawn 
and  then  sun-up  after  a  while  and  he  would  be  hungry.  But 
that  would  be  to-morrow  and  now  he  was  only  cold,  and 
walking  would  cure  that.  His  breathing  was  easier  now  and 
he  decided  to  get  up  and  go  on,  and  then  he  found  that  he 
had  been  asleep  because  he  knew  it  was  almost  dawn,  the 
night  almost  over.  He  could  tell  that  from  the  whippoor- 
wills.  They  were  everywhere  now  among  the  dark  trees 
below  him,  constant  and  inflectioned  and  ceaseless,  so  that, 
as  the  instant  for  giving  over  to  the  day  birds  drew  nearer 
and  nearer,  there  was  no  interval  at  all  between  them.  He 
got  up.  He  was  a  little  stiff,  but  walking  would  cure  that 
too  as  it  would  the  cold,  and  soon  there  would  be  the  sun. 
He  went  on  down  the  hill,  toward  the  dark  woods  within 
which  the  liquid  silver  voices  of  the  birds  called  unceasing 
— the  rapid  and  urgent  beating  of  the  urgent  and  quiring 
heart  of  the  late  spring  night.  He  did  not  look  back. 


Shingles  for  the  Lord 


PAP  GOT  UP  a  good  hour  before  daylight  and  caught  the 
mule  and  rid  down  to  Killegrews'  to  borrow  the  froe  and 
maul.  He  ought  to  been  back  with  it  in  forty  minutes.  But 
the  sun  had  rose  and  I  had  done  milked  and  fed  and  was  eat- 
ing my  breakfast  when  he  got  back,  with  the  mule  not  only 
in  a  lather  but  right  on  the  edge  of  the  thumps  too. 

"Fox  hunting,"  he  said.  "Fox  hunting.  A  seventy-year-old 
man,  with  both  feet  and  one  knee,  too,  already  in  the  grave, 
squatting  all  night  on  a  hill  and  calling  himself  listening  to  a 
fox  race  that  he  couldn't  even  hear  unless  they  had  come 
right  up  onto  the  same  log  he  was  setting  on  and  bayed  into 
his  ear  trumpet.  Give  me  my  breakfast,"  he  told  maw. 
"Whitfield  is  standing  there  right  this  minute,  straddle  of  that 
board  tree  with  his  watch  in  his  hand." 

And  he  was.  We  rid  on  past  the  church,  and  there  was  not 
only  Solon  Quick's  school-bus  truck  but  Reverend  Whit- 
field's  old  mare  too.  We  tied  the  mule  to  a  sapling  and  hung 
our  dinner  bucket  on  a  limb,  and  with  pap  toting  Killegrew's 
froe  and  maul  and  the  wedges  and  me  toting  our  ax,  we  went 
on  to  the  board  tree  where  Solon  and  Homer  Bookwright, 
with  their  froes  and  mauls  and  axes  and  wedges,  was  setting 
on  two  upended  cuts,  and  Whitfield  was  standing  jest  like 
pap  said,  in  his  boiled  shirt  and  his  black  hat  and  pants  and 
necktie,  holding  his  watch  in  his  hand.  It  was  gold  and  in 


28  The  Country 

the  morning  sunlight  it  looked  big  as  a  full-growed  squash. 

"You're  late/'  he  said. 

So  pap  told  again  about  how  Old  Man  Killegrew  had  been 
off  fox  hunting  all  night,  and  nobody  at  home  to  lend  him  the 
froe  but  Mrs.  Killegrew  and  the  cook.  And  naturally,  the 
cook  wasn't  going  to  lend  none  of  Killegrew's  tools  out,  and 
Mrs.  Killegrew  was  worser  deaf  than  even  Killegrew.  If  you 
was  to  run  in  and  tell  her  the  house  was  afire,  she  would  jest 
keep  on  rocking  and  say  she  thought  so,  too,  unless  she  began 
to  holler  back  to  the  cook  to  turn  the  dogs  loose  before  you 
could  even  open  your  mouth. 

"You  could  have  gone  yesterday  and  borrowed  the  froe," 
Whitfield  said.  "You  have  known  for  a  month  now  that  you 
had  promised  this  one  day  out  of  a  whole  summer  toward 
putting  a  roof  on  the  house  of  God." 

"We  ain't  but  two  hours  late,"  pap  said.  "I  reckon  the 
Lord  will  forgive  it.  He  ain't  interested  in  time,  nohow.  He's 
interested  in  salvation." 

Whitfield  never  even  waited  for  pap  to  finish.  It  looked  to 
me  like  he  even  got  taller,  thundering  down  at  pap  like  a 
cloudburst.  "He  ain't  interested  in  neither!  Why  should  He 
be,  when  He  owns  them  both?  And  why  He  should  turn 
around  for  the  poor,  mizzling  souls  of  men  that  can't  even 
borrow  tools  in  time  to  replace  the  shingles  on  His  church,  I 
don't  know  either.  Maybe  it's  just  because  He  made  them. 
Maybe  He  just  said  to  Himself:  'I  made  them;  I  don't  know 
why.  But  since  I  did,  I  Godfrey,  I'll  roll  My  sleeves  up  and 
drag  them  into  glory  whether  they  will  or  no!'  " 

But  that  wasn't  here  nor  there  either  now,  and  I  reckon 
he  knowed  it,  jest  like  he  knowed  there  wasn't  going  to 
be  nothing  atall  here  as  long  as  he  stayed.  So  he  put  the 
watch  back  into  his  pocket  and  motioned  Solon  and  Homei 
up,  and  we  all  taken  off  our  hats  except  him  while  he  stood 
there  with  his  face  raised  into  the  sun  and  his  eyes  shut  and 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  29 

his  eyebrows  looking  like  a  big  iron-gray  caterpillar  lying 
along  the  edge  of  a  cliff.  "Lord,"  he  said,  "make  them  good 
straight  shingles  to  lay  smooth,  and  let  them  split  out  easy; 
they're  for  You,"  and  opened  his  eyes  and  looked  at  us  again, 
mostly  at  pap,  and  went  and  untied  his  mare  and  dumb  up 
slow  and  stiff,  like  old  men  do,  and  rid  away. 

Pap  put  down  the  froe  and  maul  and  laid  the  three  wedges 
in  a  neat  row  on  the  ground  and  taken  up  the  ax. 

"Well,  men,"  he  said,  "let's  get  started.  We're  already 
late." 

"Me  and  Homer  ain't,"  Solon  said.  "We  was  here."  This 
time  him  and  Homer  didn't  set  on  the  cuts.  They  squatted 
on  their  heels.  Then  I  seen  that  Homer  was  whittling  on  a 
stick.  I  hadn't  noticed  it  before.  "I  make  it  two  hours  and  a 
little  over,"  Solon  said.  "More  or  less." 

Pap  was  still  about  half  stooped  over,  holding  the  ax.  "It's 
nigher  one,"  he  said.  "But  call  it  two  for  the  sake  of  the  argu- 
ment. What  about  it?" 

"What  argument?"  Homer  said. 

"All  right,"  pap  said.  "Two  hours  then.  What  about  it?" 

"Which  is  three  man-hour  units  a  hour,  multiplied  by  two 
hours,"  Solon  said.  "Or  a  total  of  six  work  units."  When  the 
WPA  first  come  to  Yoknapatawpha  County  and  started  to 
giving  out  jobs  and  grub  and  mattresses,  Solon  went  in  to 
Jefferson  to  get  on  it.  He  would  drive  his  school-bus  truck 
the  twenty-two  miles  in  to  town  every  morning  and  come 
back  that  night.  He  done  that  for  almost  a  week  before  he 
found  out  he  would  not  only  have  to  sign  his  farm  off  into 
somebody  else's  name,  he  couldn't  even  own  and  run  the 
school  bus  that  he  had  built  himself.  So  he  come  back  that 
night  and  never  went  back  no  more,  and  since  then  hadn't 
nobody  better  mention  WPA  to  him  unless  they  aimed  to 
fight,  too,  though  every  now  and  then  he  would  turn  up 
with  something  all  figured  down  into  work  units  like  he  done 
now.  "Six  units  short." 


30  The  Country 

"Four  of  which  you  and  Homer  could  have  already 
worked  out  while  you  was  setting  here  waiting  on  me,"  pap 
said. 

"Except  that  we  didn't/'  Solon  said.  "We  promised  Whit- 
field  two  units  of  twelve  three-unit  hours  toward  getting 
some  new  shingles  on  the  church  roof.  We  been  here  ever 
since  sunup,  waiting  for  the  third  unit  to  show  up,  so  we 
could  start.  You  don't  seem  to  kept  up  with  these  modern 
ideas  about  work  that's  been  flooding  and  uplifting  the  coun- 
try in  the  last  few  years." 

"What  modren  ideas?"  pap  said.  "I  didn't  know  there  was 
but  one  idea  about  work — until  it  is  done,  it  ain't  done,  and 
when  it  is  done,  it  is." 

Homer  made  another  long,  steady  whittle  on  the  stick.  His 
knife  was  sharp  as  a  razor. 

Solon  taken  out  his  snuffbox  and  filled  the  top  and  tilted 
the  snuff  into  his  lip  and  offered  the  box  to  Homer,  and 
Homer  shaken  his  head,  and  Solon  put  the  top  back  on  the 
box  and  put  the  box  back  into  his  pocket. 

"So,"  pap  said,  "jest  because  I  had  to  wait  two  hours  for  a 
old  seventy-year  man  to  get  back  from  fox  hunting  that 
never  had  no  more  business  setting  out  in  the  woods  all  night 
than  he  would  'a'  had  setting  all  night  in  a  highway  juke 
joint,  we  all  three  have  got  to  come  back  here  tomorrow  to 
finish  them  two  hours  that  you  and  Homer " 

"I  ain't,"  Solon  said.  "I  don't  know  about  Homer.  I  prom- 
ised Whitfield  one  day.  I  was  here  at  sunup  to  start  it.  When 
the  sun  goes  down,  I  will  consider  I  have  done  finished  it." 

"I  see,"  pap  said.  "I  see.  It's  me  that's  got  to  come  back.  By 
myself.  I  got  to  break  into  a  full  morning  to  make  up  them 
two  hours  that  you  and  Homer  spent  resting.  I  got  to  spend 
two  hours  of  the  next  day  making  up  for  the  two  hours  of  the 
day  before  that  you  and  Homer  never  even  worked." 

"It's  going  to  more  than  jest  break  into  a  morning,"  Solon 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  3 1 

said.  "It's  going  to  wreck  it.  There's  six  units  left  over.  Six 
one-man-hour  units.  Maybe  you  can  work  twice  as  fast  as 
me  and  Homer  put  together  and  finish  them  in  four  hours, 
but  I  don't  believe  you  can  work  three  times  as  fast  and  finish 
in  two." 

Pap  was  standing  up  now.  He  was  breathing  hard.  We 
could  hear  him.  "So,"  he  said.  "So."  He  swung  the  ax  and 
druv  the  blade  into  one  of  the  cuts  and  snatched  it  up  onto 
its  flat  end,  ready  to  split.  "So  I'm  to  be  penalized  a  half  a 
day  of  my  own  time,  from  my  own  work  that's  waiting  for 
me  at  home  right  this  minute,  to  do  six  hours  more  work  than 
the  work  you  fellers  lacked  two  hours  of  even  doing  atall, 
purely  and  simply  because  I  am  jest  a  average  hard-working 
farmer  trying  to  do  the  best  he  can,  instead  of  a  durn  froe- 
owning  millionaire  named  Quick  or  Bookwright." 

They  went  to  work  then,  splitting  the  cuts  into  bolts  and 
riving  the  bolts  into  shingles  for  Tull  and  Snopes  and  the 
others  that  had  promised  for  tomorrow  to  start  nailing  onto 
the  church  roof  when  they  finished  pulling  the  old  shingles 
off.  They  set  flat  on  the  ground  in  a  kind  of  circle,  with 
their  legs  spraddled  out  on  either  side  of  the  propped-up  bolt, 
Solon  and  Homer  working  light  and  easy  and  steady  as  two 
clocks  ticking,  but  pap  making  every  lick  of  hisn  like  he  was 
killing  a  moccasin.  If  he  had  jest  swung  the  maul  half  as  fast 
as  he  swung  it  hard,  he  would  have  rove  as  many  shingles  as 
Solon  and  Homer  together,  swinging  the  maul  up  over  his 
head  and  holding  it  there  for  what  looked  like  a  whole  min- 
ute sometimes  and  then  swinging  it  down  onto  the  blade  of 
the  froe,  and  not  only  a  shingle  flying  off  every  lick  but  the 
froe  going  on  into  the  ground  clean  up  to  the  helve  eye,  and 
pap  setting  there  wrenching  at  it  slow  and  steady  and  hard, 
like  he  jest  wished  it  would  try  to  hang  on  a  root  or  a  rock 
and  stay  there. 

"Here,  here,"  Solon  said.  "If  you  don't  watch  out  you 


32  The  Country 

won't  have  nothing  to  do  neither  during  them  six  extra  units 
tomorrow  morning  but  rest." 

Pap  never  even  looked  up.  "Get  out  of  the  way,"  he  said. 
And  Solon  done  it.  If  he  hadn't  moved  the  water  bucket,  pap 
would  have  split  it,  too,  right  on  top  of  the  bolt,  and  this 
time  the  whole  shingle  went  whirling  past  Solon's  shin  jest 
like  a  scythe  blade. 

"What  you  ought  to  do  is  to  hire  somebody  to  work  out 
them  extra  overtime  units,"  Solon  said. 

"With  what?"  Pap  said.  "I  ain't  had  no  WPA  experience 
in  dickering  over  labor.  Get  out  of  the  way." 

But  Solon  had  already  moved  this  time.  Pap  would  have 
had  to  change  his  whole  position  or  else  made  this  one  curve. 
So  this  one  missed  Solon,  too,  and  pap  set  there  wrenching 
the  froe,  slow  and  hard  and  steady,  back  out  of  the  ground. 

"Maybe  there's  something  else  besides  cash  you  might  be 
able  to  trade  with,"  Solon  said.  "You  might  use  that  dog." 

That  was  when  pap  actually  stopped.  I  didn't  know  it  my- 
self then  either,  but  I  found  it  out  a  good  long  time  before 
Solon  did.  Pap  set  there  with  the  maul  up  over  his  head  and 
the  blade  of  the  froe  set  against  the  block  for  the  next  lick, 
looking  up  at  Solon.  "The  dog?"  he  said. 

It  was  a  kind  of  mixed  hound,  with  a  little  bird  dog  and 
some  collie  and  maybe  a  considerable  of  almost  anything 
else,  but  it  would  ease  through  the  woods  without  no  more 
noise  than  a  hant  and  pick  up  a  squirrel's  trail  on  the  ground 
and  bark  jest  once,  unless  it  knowed  you  was  where  you 
could  see  it,  and  then  tiptoe  that  trail  out  jest  like  a  man  and 
never  make  another  sound  until  it  treed,  and  only  then  when 
it  knowed  you  hadn't  kept  in  sight  of  it.  It  belonged  to  pap 
and  Vernon  Tull  together.  Will  Varner  give  it  to  Tull  as  a 
puppy,  and  pap  raised  it  for  a  half  interest;  me  and  him 
trained  it  and  it  slept  in  my  bed  with  me  until  it  got  so  big 
maw  finally  run  it  out  of  the  house,  and  for  the  last  six  months 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  33 

Solon  had  been  trying  to  buy  it.  Him  and  Tull  had  agreed  on 
two  dollars  for  Tull's  half  of  it,  but  Solon  and  pap  was  still 
six  dollars  apart  on  ourn,  because  pap  said  it  was  worth  ten 
dollars  of  anybody's  money  and  if  Tull  wasn't  going  to  col- 
lect his  full  half  of  that,  he  was  going  to  collect  it  for  him. 

"So  that's  it,"  pap  said.  "Them  things  wasn't  work  units 
atall.  They  was  dog  units." 

"Jest  a  suggestion,"  Solon  said.  "Jest  a  friendly  offer  to 
keep  them  runaway  shingles  from  breaking  up  your  private 
business  for  six  hours  tomorrow  morning.  You  sell  me  your 
half  of  that  trick  overgrown  fyce  and  I'll  finish  these  shingles 
for  you." 

"Naturally  including  them  six  extra  units  of  one  dollars," 
pap  said. 

"No,  no,"  Solon  said.  "I'll  pay  you  the  same  two  dollars 
for  your  half  of  that  dog  that  me  and  Tull  agreed  on  for  his 
half  of  it.  You  meet  me  here  tomorrow  morning  with  the 
dog  and  you  can  go  on  back  home  or  wherever  them  urgent 
private  affairs  are  located,  and  forget  about  that  church 
roof." 

For  about  ten  seconds  more,  pap  set  there  with  the  maul 
up  over  his  head,  looking  at  Solon.  Then  for  about  three  sec- 
onds he  wasn't  looking  at  Solon  or  at  nothing  else.  Then  he 
was  looking  at  Solon  again.  It  was  jest  exactly  like  after  about 
two  and  nine-tenths  seconds  he  found  out  he  wasn't  looking 
at  Solon,  so  he  looked  back  at  him  as  quick  as  he  could. 
"Hah,"  he  said.  Then  he  began  to  laugh.  It  was  laughing  all 
right,  because  his  mouth  was  open  and  that's  what  it  sounded 
like.  But  it  never  went  no  further  back  than  his  teeth  and  it 
never  come  nowhere  near  reaching  as  high  up  as  his  eyes. 
And  he  never  said  "Look  out"  this  time  neither.  He  jest 
shifted  fast  on  his  hips  and  swung  the  maul  down,  the  froe 
done  already  druv  through  the  bolt  and  into  the  ground 


34  The  Country 

while  the  shingle  was  still  whirling  off  to  slap  Solon  across 
the  shki. 

Then  they  went  back  at  it  again.  Up  to  this  time  I  could 
tell  pap's  licks  from  Solon's  and  Homer's,  even  with  my  back 
turned,  not  because  they  was  louder  or  steadier,  because 
Solon  and  Homer  worked  steady,  too,  and  the  froe  never 
made  no  especial  noise  jest  going  into  the  ground,  but  because 
they  was  so  infrequent;  you  would  hear  five  or  six  of  Solon's 
and  Homer's  little  polite  chipping  licks  before  you  would 
hear  pap's  froe  go  "chug!"  and  know  that  another  shingle 
had  went  whirling  off  somewhere.  But  from  now  on  pap's 
sounded  jest  as  light  and  quick  and  polite  as  Solon's  or 
Homer's  either,  and,  if  anything,  even  a  little  faster,  with  the 
shingles  piling  up  steadier  than  I  could  stack  them,  almost; 
until  now  there  was  going  to  be  more  than  a  plenty  of  them 
for  Tull  and  the  others  to  shingle  with  tomorrow,  right  on 
up  to  noon,  when  we  heard  Armstid's  farm  bell,  and  Solon 
laid  his  froe  and  maul  down  and  looked  at  his  watch  too.  And 
I  wasn't  so  far  away  neither,  but  by  the  time  I  caught  up  with 
pap  he  had  untied  the  mule  from  the  sapling  and  was  already 
on  it.  And  maybe  Solon  and  Homer  thought  they  had  pap, 
and  maybe  for  a  minute  I  did,  too,  but  I  jest  wish  they  could 
have  seen  his  face  then.  He  reached  our  dinner  bucket  down 
from  the  limb  and  handed  it  to  me. 

"Go  on  and  eat,"  he  said.  "Don't  wait  for  me.  Him  and 
his  work  units.  If  he  wants  to  know  where  I  went,  tell  him 
I  forgot  something  and  went  home  to  get  it.  Tell  him  I  had 
to  go  back  home  to  get  two  spoons  for  us  to  eat  our  dinner 
with.  No,  don't  tell  him  that.  If  he  hears  I  went  somewhere 
to  get  something  I  needed  to  use,  even  if  it's  jest  a  tool  to  eat 
with,  he  will  refuse  to  believe  I  jest  went  home,  for  the  reason 
that  I  don't  own  anything  there  that  even  I  would  borrow." 
He  hauled  the  mule  around  and  heeled  him  in  the  flank. 
Then  he  pulled  up  again.  "And  when  I  come  back,  no  matter 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  35 

what  I  say,  don't  pay  no  attention  to  it.  No  matter  what  hap- 
pens, don't  you  say  nothing.  Don't  open  your  mouth  a-tall, 
you  hear?" 

Then  he  went  on,  and  I  went  back  to  where  Solon  and 
Homer  was  setting  on  the  running  board  of  Solon's  school- 
bus  truck,  eating,  and  sho  enough  Solon  said  jest  exactly 
what  pap  said  he  was  going  to. 

"I  admire  his  optimism,  but  he's  mistaken.  If  it's  something 
he  needs  that  he  can't  use  his  natural  hands  and  feet  for,  he's 
going  somewhere  else  than  jest  his  own  house." 

We  had  jest  went  back  to  the  shingles  when  pap  rid  up 
and  got  down  and  tied  the  mule  back  to  the  sapling  and  come 
and  taken  up  the  ax  and  snicked  the  blade  into  the  next  cut. 

"Well,  men,"  he  said,  "I  been  thinking  about  it.  I  still  don't 
think  it's  right,  but  I  still  ain't  thought  of  anything  to  do 
about  it.  But  somebody's  got  to  make  up  for  them  two  hours 
nobody  worked  this  morning,  and  since  you  fellers  are  two 
to  one  against  me,  it  looks  like  it's  going  to  be  me  that  makes 
them  up.  But  I  got  work  waiting  at  home  for  me  tomorrow. 
I  got  corn  that's  crying  out  loud  for  me  right  now.  Or  maybe 
that's  jest  a  lie  too.  Maybe  the  whole  thing  is,  I  don't  mind 
admitting  here  in  private  that  I  been  outfigured,  but  I  be  dog 
if  I'm  going  to  set  here  by  myself  tomorrow  morning  admit- 
ting it  in  public.  Anyway,  I  ain't.  So  I'm  going  to  trade  with 
you,  Solon.  You  can  have  the  dog." 

Solon  looked  at  pap.  "I  don't  know  as  I  want  to  trade 
now,"  he  said. 

"I  see,"  pap  said.  The  ax  was  still  stuck  in  the  cut.  He 
began  to  pump  it  up  and  down  to  back  it  out. 

"Wait,"  Solon  said.  "Put  that  durn  ax  down."  But  pap 
held  the  ax  raised  for  the  lick,  looking  at  Solon  and  waiting. 
"You're  swapping  me  half  a  dog  for  a  half  a  day's  work," 
Solon  said 


36  The  Country 

"Your  half  of  the  dog  for  that  half  a  day's  work  you  still 
owe  on  these  shingles." 

uAnd  the  two  dollars/'  pap  said.  "That  you  and  Tull 
agreed  on.  I  sell  you  half  the  dog  for  two  dollars,  and  you 
come  back  here  tomorrow  and  finish  the  shingles.  You  give 
me  the  two  dollars  now,  and  I'll  meet  you  here  in  the  morn- 
ing with  the  dog,  and  you  can  show  me  the  receipt  from  Tull 
for  his  half  then." 

"Me  and  Tull  have  already  agreed,"  Solon  said. 

"All  right,"  pap  said.  "Then  you  can  pay  Tull  his  two 
dollars  and  bring  his  receipt  with  you  without  no  trouble." 

"Tull  will  be  at  the  church  tomorrow  morning,  pulling 
off  them  old  shingles,"  Solon  said. 

"All  right,"  pap  said.  "Then  it  won't  be  no  trouble  at  all 
for  you  to  get  a  receipt  from  him.  You  can  stop  at  the  church 
when  you  pass.  Tull  ain't  named  Grier.  He  won't  need  to  be 
off  somewhere  borrowing  a  crowbar." 

So  Solon  taken  out  his  purse  and  paid  pap  the  two  dollars 
and  they  went  back  to  work.  And  now  it  looked  like  they 
really  was  trying  to  finish  that  afternoon,  not  jest  Solon,  but 
even  Homer,  that  didn't  seem  to  be  concerned  in  it  nohow, 
and  pap,  that  had  already  swapped  a  half  a  dog  to  get  rid  of 
whatever  work  Solon  claimed  would  be  left  over.  I  quit  try- 
ing to  stay  up  with  them;  I  jest  stacked  shingles. 

Then  Solon  laid  his  froe  and  maul  down.  "Well,  men,"  he 
said,  "I  don't  know  what  you  fellers  think,  but  I  consider 
this  a  day." 

"All  right,"  pap  said.  "You  are  the  one  to  decide  when  to 
quit,  since  whatever  elbow  units  you  consider  are  going  to  be 
shy  tomorrow  will  be  yourn." 

"That's  a  fact,"  Solon  said.  "And  since  I  am  giving  a  day 
and  a  half  to  the  church  instead  of  jest  a  day,  like  I  started 
out  doing,  I  reckon  I  better  get  on  home  and  tend  to  a  little 
of  my  own  work."  He  picked  up  his  froe  and  maul  and  ax, 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  37 

and  went  to  his  truck  and  stood  waiting  for  Homer  to  come 
and  get  in. 

'Til  be  here  in  the  morning  with  the  dog,"  pap  said. 

"Sholy,"  Solon  said.  It  sounded  like  he  had  forgot  about 
the  dog,  or  that  it  wasn't  no  longer  any  importance.  But  he 
stood  there  again  and  looked  hard  and  quiet  at  pap  for  about 
a  second.  "And  a  bill  of  sale  from  Tull  for  his  half  of  it.  As 
you  say,  it  won't  be  no  trouble  a-tall  to  get  that  from  him." 
Him  and  Homer  got  into  the  truck  and  he  started  the  engine. 
You  couldn't  say  jest  what  it  was.  It  was  almost  like  Solon 
was  hurrying  himself,  so  pap  wouldn't  have  to  make  any  ex- 
cuse or  pretense  toward  doing  or  not  doing  anything.  "I 
have  always  understood  the  fact  that  lightning  don't  have  to 
hit  twice  is  one  of  the  reasons  why  they  named  it  lightning. 
So  getting  lightning-struck  is  a  mistake  that  might  happen  to 
any  man.  The  mistake  I  seem  to  made  is,  I  never  realized  in 
time  that  what  I  was  looking  at  was  a  cloud.  I'll  see  you  in 
the  morning." 

"With  the  dog,"  pap  said. 

"Certainly,"  Solon  said,  again  like  it  had  slipped  his  mind 
completely.  "With  the  dog." 

Then  him  and  Homer  drove  off.  Then  pap  got  up. 

"What?"  I  said.  "What?  You  swapped  him  your  half  of 
Tull's  dog  for  that  half  a  day's  work  tomorrow.  Now  what?" 

"Yes,"  pap  said.  "Only  before  that  I  had  already  swapped 
Tull  a  half  a  day's  work  pulling  off  them  old  shingles  tomor- 
row, for  Tull's  half  of  that  dog.  Only  we  ain't  going  to  wait 
until  tomorrow.  We're  going  to  pull  them  shingles  off  to- 
night, and  without  no  more  racket  about  it  than  is  necessary. 
I  don't  aim  to  have  nothing  on  my  mind  tomorrow  but 
watching  Mr.  Solon  Work-Unit  Quick  trying  to  get  a  bill 
of  sale  for  two  dollars  or  ten  dollars  either  on  the  other  half 
of  that  dog.  And  we'll  do  it  tonight.  I  don't  want  him  jest  to 
find  out  at  sunup  tomorrow  that  he  is  too  late.  I  want  him  to 


38  The  Country 

find  out  then  that  even  when  he  laid  down  to  sleep  he  was 
already  too  late." 

So  we  went  back  home  and  I  fed  and  milked  while  pap 
went  down  to  Killegrews'  to  carry  the  froe  and  maul  back 
and  to  borrow  a  crowbar.  But  of  all  places  in  the  world  and 
doing  what  under  the  sun  with  it,  Old  Man  Killegrew  had 
went  and  lost  his  crowbar  out  of  a  boat  into  forty  feet  of 
water.  And  pap  said  how  he  come  within  a  inch  of  going  to 
Solon's  and  borrowing  his  crowbar  out  of  pure  poetic  jus- 
tice, only  Solon  might  have  smelled  the  rat  jest  from  the  idea 
of  the  crowbar.  So  pap  went  to  Armstid's  and  borrowed  hisn 
and  come  back  and  we  et  supper  and  cleaned  and  filled  the 
lantern  while  maw  still  tried  to  find  out  what  we  was  up  to 
that  couldn't  wait  till  morning. 

We  left  her  still  talking,  even  as  far  as  the  front  gate,  and 
come  on  back  to  the  church,  walking  this  time,  with  the  rope 
and  crowbar  and  a  hammer  for  me,  and  the  lantern  still  dark. 
Whitfield  and  Snopes  was  unloading  a  ladder  from  Snopes' 
wagon  when  we  passed  the  church  on  the  way  home  before 
dark,  so  all  we  had  to  do  was  to  set  the  ladder  up  against  the 
church.  Then  pap  clumb  up  onto  the  roof  with  the  lantern 
and  pulled  off  shingles  until  he  could  hang  the  lantern  inside 
behind  the  decking,  where  it  could  shine  out  through  the 
cracks  in  the  planks,  but  you  couldn't  see  it  unless  you  was 
passing  in  the  road,  and  by  that  time  anybody  would  'a'  al- 
ready heard  us.  Then  I  clumb  up  with  the  rope,  and  pap 
reached  it  through  the  decking  and  around  a  rafter  and  back 
and  tied  the  ends  around  our  waists,  and  we  started.  And  we 
went  at  it.  We  had  them  old  shingles  jest  raining  down,  me 
using  the  claw  hammer  and  pap  using  the  crowbar,  working 
the  bar  under  a  whole  patch  of  shingles  at  one  time  and  then 
laying  back  on  the  bar  like  in  one  more  lick  or  if  the  crowbar 
ever  happened  for  one  second  to  get  a  solid  holt,  he  would 
tilt  up  that  whole  roof  at  one  time  like  a  hinged  box  lid. 


Shingles  f0r  the  Lord  39 

That's  exactly  what  he  finally  done.  He  laid  back  on  the 
bar  and  this  time  it  got  a  holt.  It  wasn't  jest  a  patch  of  shin- 
gles, it  was  a  whole  section  of  decking,  so  that  when  he 
lunged  back  he  snatched  that  whole  section  of  roof  from 
around  the  lantern  like  you  would  shuck  a  corn  nubbin.  The 
lantern  was  hanging  on  a  nail.  He  never  even  moved  the  nail, 
he  jest  pulled  the  board  off  of  it,  so  that  it  looked  like  for  a 
whole  minute  I  watched  the  lantern,  and  the  crowbar,  too, 
setting  there  in  the  empty  air  in  a  little  mess  of  floating  shin- 
gles, with  the  empty  nail  still  sticking  through  the  bail  of  the 
lantern,  before  the  whole  thing  started  down  into  the  church. 
It  hit  the  floor  and  bounced  once.  Then  it  hit  the  floor  again, 
and  this  time  the  whole  church  jest  blowed  up  into  a  pit  of 
yellow  jumping  fire,  with  me  and  pap  hanging  over  the  edge 
of  it  on  two  ropes. 

I  don't  know  what  become  of  the  rope  nor  how  we  got 
out  of  it.  I  don't  remember  climbing  down.  Jest  pap  yelling 
behind  me  and  pushing  me  about  halfway  down  the  ladder 
and  then  throwing  me  the  rest  of  the  way  by  a  handful  of  my 
overhalls,  and  then  we  was  both  on  the  ground,  running  for 
the  water  barrel.  It  set  under  the  gutter  spout  at  the  side,  and 
Armstid  was  there  then;  he  had  happened  to  go  out  to  his  lot 
about  a  hour  back  and  seen  the  lantern  on  the  church  roof, 
and  it  stayed  on  his  mind  until  finally  he  come  up  to  see 
what  was  going  on,  and  got  there  jest  in  time  to  stand  yelling 
back  and  forth  with  pap  across  the  water  barrel.  And  I  be- 
lieve we  still  would  have  put  it  out.  Pap  turned  and  squatted 
against  the  barrel  and  got  a  holt  of  it  over  his  shoulder  and 
stood  up  with  that  barrel  that  was  almost  full  and  run  around 
the  corner  and  up  the  steps  of  the  church  and  hooked  his 
toe  on  the  top  step  and  come  down  with  the  barrel  busting 
on  top  of  him  and  knocking  him  cold  out  as  a  wedge. 

So  we  had  to  drag  him  back  first,  and  maw  was  there  then, 
and  Mrs.  Armstid  about  the  same  time,  and  me  and  Armstid 


40  The  Country 

run  with  the  two  fire  buckets  to  the  spring,  and  when  we  got 
back  there  was  a  plenty  there,  Whitfield,  too,  with  more 
buckets,  and  we  done  what  we  could,  but  the  spring  was  two 
hundred  yards  away  and  ten  buckets  emptied  it  and  it  taken 
five  minutes  to  fill  again,  and  so  finally  we  all  jest  stood 
around  where  pap  had  come  to  again  with  a  big  cut  on  his 
head  and  watched  it  go.  It  was  a  old  church,  long  dried  out, 
and  full  of  old  colored-picture  charts  that  Whitfield  had  ac- 
cumulated for  more  than  fifty  years,  that  the  lantern  had  lit 
right  in  the  middle  of  when  it  finally  exploded.  There  was  a 
special  nail  where  he  would  keep  a  old  long  nightshirt  he 
would  wear  to  baptize  in.  I  would  use  to  watch  it  all  the  time 
during  church  and  Sunday  school,  and  me  and  the  other  boys 
would  go  past  the  church  sometimes  jest  to  peep  in  at  it, 
because  to  a  boy  of  ten  it  wasn't  jest  a  cloth  garment  or  even 
a  iron  armor;  it  was  the  old  strong  Archangel  Michael  his 
self,  that  had  fit  and  strove  and  conquered  sin  for  so  long 
that  it  finally  had  the  same  contempt  for  the  human  beings 
that  returned  always  to  sin  as  hogs  and  dogs  done  that  the  old 
strong  archangel  his  self  must  have  had. 

For  a  long  time  it  never  burned,  even  after  everything  else 
inside  had.  We  could  watch  it,  hanging  there  among  the  fire, 
not  like  it  had  knowed  in  its  time  too  much  water  to  burn 
easy,  but  like  it  had  strove  and  fit  with  the  devil  and  all  the 
hosts  of  hell  too  long  to  burn  in  jest  a  fire  that  Res  Griet 
started,  trying  to  beat  Solon  Quick  out  of  half  a  dog.  But  at 
last  it  went,  too,  not  in  a  hurry  still,  but  jest  all  at  once,  kind 
of  roaring  right  on  up  and  out  against  the  stars  and  the  far 
dark  spaces.  And  then  there  wasn't  nothing  but  jest  pap, 
drenched  and  groggy-looking,  on  the  ground,  with  the  rest 
of  us  around  him,  and  Whitfield  like  always  in  his  boiled  shirt 
and  his  black  hat  and  pants,  standing  there  with  his  hat  on, 
too,  like  he  had  strove  too  long  to  save  what  hadn't  ought  to 
been  created  in  the  first  place,  from  the  damnation  it  didn't 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  41 

even  want  to  escape,  to  bother  to  need  to  take  his  hat  off  in 
any  presence.  He  looked  around  at  us  from  under  it;  we  was 
all  there  now,  all  that  belonged  to  that  church  and  used  it  to 
be  born  and  marry  and  die  from — us  and  the  Armstids  and 
Tulls,  and  Bookwright  and  Quick  and  Snopes. 

"I  was  wrong,"  Whitfield  said.  "I  told  you  we  would  meet 
here  tomorrow  to  roof  a  church.  We'll  meet  here  in  the 
morning  to  raise  one." 

"Of  course  we  got  to  have  a  church,"  pap  said.  "We're 
going  to  have  one.  And  we're  going  to  have  it  soon.  But 
there's  some  of  us  done  already  give  a  day  or  so  this  week, 
at  the  cost  of  our  own  work.  Which  is  right  and  just,  and 
we're  going  to  give  more,  and  glad  to.  But  I  don't  believe 
that  the  Lord " 

Whitfield  let  him  finish.  He  never  moved.  He  jest  stood 
there  until  pap  finally  run  down  of  his  own  accord  and 
hushed  and  set  there  on  the  ground  mostly  not  looking  at 
maw,  before  Whitfield  opened  his  mouth. 

"Not  you,"  Whitfield  said.  "Arsonist." 

"Arsonist?"  pap  said. 

"Yes,"  Whitfield  said.  "If  there  is  any  pursuit  in  which 
you  can  engage  without  carrying  flood  and  fire  and  destruc- 
tion and  death  behind  you,  do  it.  But  not  one  hand  shall  you 
lay  to  this  new  house  until  you  have  proved  to  us  that  you 
are  to  be  trusted  again  with  the  powers  and  capacities  of  a 
man."  He  looked  about  at  us  again.  "Tull  and  Snopes  and 
Armstid  have  already  promised  for  tomorrow.  I  understand 
that  Quick  had  another  half  day  he  intended " 

"I  can  give  another  day,"  Solon  said. 

"I  can  give  the  rest  of  the  week,"  Homer  said. 

"I  ain't  rushed  neither,"  Snopes  said. 

"That  will  be  enough  to  start  with,  then,"  Whitfield  said. 
"It's  late  now.  Let  us  all  go  home." 

He  went  first.  He  didn't  look  back  once,  at  the  church  or 


42  The  Country 

at  us.  He  went  to  the  old  mare  and  clumb  up  slow  and  stiff 
and  powerful,  and  was  gone,  and  we  went  too,  scattering. 
But  I  looked  back  at  it.  It  was  jest  a  shell  now,  with  a  red 
and  fading  core,  and  I  had  hated  it  at  times  and  feared  it  at 
others,  and  I  should  have  been  glad.  But  there  was  something 
that  even  that  fire  hadn't  even  touched.  Maybe  that's  all  it 
was — jest  indestructibility,  endurability — that  old  man  that 
could  plan  to  build  it  back  while  its  walls  was  still  fire-fierce 
and  then  calmly  turn  his  back  and  go  away  because  he 
knowed  that  the  men  that  never  had  nothing  to  give  toward 
the  new  one  but  their  work  would  be  there  at  sunup  tomor- 
row, and  the  day  after  that,  and  the  day  after  that,  too,  as 
long  as  it  was  needed,  to  give  that  work  to  build  it  back 
again.  So  it  hadn't  gone  a-tall;  it  didn't  no  more  care  for  that 
little  fire  and  flood  than  Whitfield's  old  baptizing  gown  had 
done.  Then  we  was  home.  Maw  had  left  so  fast  the  lamp  was 
still  lit,  and  we  could  see  pap  now,  still  leaving  a  puddle 
where  he  stood,  with  a  cut  across  the  back  of  his  head  where 
the  barrel  had  busted  and  the  blood-streaked  water  soaking 
him  to  the  waist. 

"Get  them  wet  clothes  off,"  maw  said. 

"I  don't  know  as  I  will  or  not,"  pap  said.  "I  been  publicly 
notified  that  I  ain't  fitten  to  associate  with  white  folks,  so  1 
publicly  notify  them  same  white  folks  and  Methodists,  too, 
not  to  try  to  associate  with  me,  or  the  devil  can  have  the 
hindmost." 

But  maw  hadn't  even  listened.  When  she  come  back  with  a 
pan  of  water  and  a  towel  and  the  liniment  bottle,  pap  was 
already  in  his  nightshirt. 

"I  don't  want  none  of  that  neither,"  he  said.  "If  my  head 
wasn't  worth  busting,  it  ain't  worth  patching."  But  she  never 
paid  no  mind  to  that  neither.  She  washed  his  head  off  and 
dried  it  and  put  the  bandage  on  and  went  out  again,  and  pap 
went  and  got  into  bed. 


Shingles  for  the  Lord  43: 

"Hand  me  my  snuff;  then  you  get  out  of  here  and  stay  out 
too/'  he  said. 

But  before  I  could  do  that  maw  come  back.  She  had  a  glass 
of  hot  toddy,  and  she  went  to  the  bed  and  stood  there  with 
it,  and  pap  turned  his  head  and  looked  at  it. 

"What's  that?"  he  said. 

But  maw  never  answered,  and  then  he  set  up  in  bed  and 
drawed  a  long,  shuddering  breath — we  could  hear  it — and 
after  a  minute  he  put  out  his  hand  for  the  toddy  and  set  there 
holding  it  and  drawing  his  breath,  and  then  he  taken  a  sip 
of  it. 

"I  Godfrey,  if  him  and  all  of  them  put  together  think  they 
can  keep  me  from  working  on  my  own  church  like  ary  other 
man,  he  better  be  a  good  man  to  try  it."  He  taken  another 
sip  of  the  toddy.  Then  he  taken  a  long  one.  "Arsonist,"  he 
said.  "Work  units.  Dog  units.  And  now  arsonist.  I  Godfrey,, 
what  a  day!" 


The  Tall  Men 


THEY  PASSED  THE  DARK  bulk  of  the  cotton  gin.  Then  they 
saw  the  lamplit  house  and  the  other  car,  the  doctor's  coupe, 
just  stopping  at  the  gate,  and  they  could  hear  the  hound 
baying. 

"Here  we  are/'  the  old  deputy  marshal  said. 

"What's  that  other  car?"  the  younger  man  said,  the  stran- 
ger, the  state  draft  investigator. 

"Doctor  Schofield's,"  the  marshal  said.  "Lee  McCallum 
asked  me  to  send  him  out  when  I  telephoned  we  were  com- 
ing." 

"You  mean  you  warned  them?"  the  investigator  said. 
"You  telephoned  ahead  that  I  was  coming  out  with  a  war- 
rant for  these  two  evaders?  Is  this  how  you  carry  out  the 
orders  of  the  United  States  Government?" 

The  marshal  was  a  lean,  clean  old  man  who  chewed  to- 
bacco, who  had  been  born  and  lived  in  the  county  all  his  life. 

"I  understood  all  you  wanted  was  to  arrest  these  two 
McCallum  boys  and  bring  them  back  to  town,"  he  said. 

"It  was!"  the  investigator  said.  "And  now  you  have 
warned  them,  given  them  a  chance  to  run.  Possibly  put  the 
Government  to  the  expense  of  hunting  them  down  with 
troops.  Have  you  forgotten  that  you  are  under  a  bond  your- 
self?" 

"I  ain't  forgot  it,"  the  marshal  said.  "And  ever  since  we 


46  The  Country 

left  Jefferson  I  been  trying  to  tell  you  something  for  you 
not  to  forget.  But  I  reckon  it  will  take  these  McCallums  to 
impress  that  on  you.  .  .  .  Pull  in  behind  the  other  car.  We'll 
try  to  find  out  first  just  how  sick  whoever  it  is  that  is  sick 


is." 


The  investigator  drew  up  behind  the  other  car  and 
switched  off  and  blacked  out  his  lights.  "These  people,"  he 
said.  Then  he  thought,  But  this  doddering,  tobacco-chewing 
old  man  is  one  of  them,  too,  despite  the  honor  and  pride  of 
his  office,  which  should  have  made  him  different.  So  he 
didn't  speak  it  aloud,  removing  the  keys  and  getting  out  of 
the  car,  and  then  locking  the  car  itself,  rolling  the  windows 
up  first,  thinking,  These  people  who  lie  about  and  conceal 
the  ownership  of  land  and  property  in  order  to  hold  relief 
jobs  which  they  have  no  intention  of  performing,  standing 
on  their  constitutional  rights  against  having  to  work,  who 
jeopardize  the  very  job  itself  through  petty  and  transparent 
subterfuge  to  acquire  a  free  mattress  which  they  intend  to 
attempt  to  sell;  who  would  relinquish  even  the  job,  if  by  so 
doing  they  could  receive  free  food  and  a  place,  any  rathole, 
in  town  to  sleep  in;  who,  as  farmers,  make  false  statements 
to  get  seed  loans  which  they  will  later  misuse,  and  then  react 
in  loud  vituperative  outrage  and  astonishment  when  caught 
at  it.  And  then,  when  at  long  last  a  suffering  and  threatened 
Government  asks  one  thing  of  them  in  return,  one  thing 
simply,  which  is  to  put  their  names  down  on  a  selective- 
service  list,  they  refuse  to  do  it. 

The  old  marshal  had  gone  on.  The  investigator  followed, 
through  a  stout  paintless  gate  in  a  picket  fence,  up  a  broad 
brick  walk  between  two  rows  of  old  shabby  cedars,  toward 
the  rambling  and  likewise  paintless  sprawl  of  the  two-story 
house  in  the  open  hall  of  which  the  soft  lamplight  glowed 
and  the  lower  story  of  which,  as  the  investigator  now  per- 
ceived, was  of  logs. 


The  Tall  Men  47 

He  saw  a  hall  full  of  soft  lamplight  beyond  a  stout  paint- 
less  gallery  running  across  the  log  front,  from  beneath  which 
the  same  dog  which  they  had  heard,  a  big  hound,  came 
booming  again,  to  stand  foursquare  facing  them  in  the  walk, 
bellowing,  until  a  man's  voice  spoke  to  it  from  the  house. 
He  followed  the  marshal  up  the  steps  onto  the  gallery.  Then 
he  saw  the  man  standing  in  the  door,  waiting  for  them  to 
approach — a  man  of  about  forty-five,  not  tall,  but  blocky, 
with  a  brown,  still  face  and  horseman's  hands,  who  looked 
at  him  once,  brief  and  hard,  and  then  no  more,  speaking  to 
the  marshal,  "Howdy,  Mr.  Gombault.  Come  in." 

"Howdy,  Rafe,"  the  marshal  said.  "Who's  sick?" 

"Buddy,"  the  other  said.  "Slipped  and  caught  his  leg  in 
the  hammer  mill  this  afternoon." 

"Is  it  bad?"  the  marshal  said. 

"It  looks  bad  to  me,"  the  other  said.  "That's  why  we  sent 
for  the  doctor  instead  of  bringing  him  in  to  town.  We 
couldn't  get  the  bleeding  stopped." 

"I'm  sorry  to  hear  that,"  the  marshal  said.  "This  is  Mr. 
Pearson."  Once  more  the  investigator  found  the  other  look- 
ing at  him,  the  brown  eyes  still,  courteous  enough  in  the 
brown  face,  the  hand  he  offered  hard  enough,  but  the  clasp 
quite  limp,  quite  cold.  The  marshal  was  still  speaking.  "From 
Jackson.  From  the  draft  board."  Then  he  said,  and  the  in- 
vestigator could  discern  no  change  whatever  in  his  tone: 
"He's  got  a  warrant  for  the  boys." 

The  investigator  could  discern  no  change  whatever  any- 
where. The  limp  hard  hand  merely  withdrew  from  his,  the 
still  face  now  looking  at  the  marshal.  "You  mean  we  have 
declared  war?" 

"No,"  the  marshal  said. 

"That's  not  the  question,  Mr.  McCallum,"  the  investi- 
gator said.  "All  required  of  them  was  to  register.  Their  num- 
bers might  not  even  be  drawn  this  time;  under  the  law  of 


48  The  Country 

averages,  they  probably  would  not  be.  But  they  refused — 
failed,  anyway — to  register." 

"I  see,"  the  other  said.  He  was  not  looking  at  the  investi- 
gator. The  investigator  couldn't  tell  certainly  if  he  was  even 
looking  at  the  marshal,  although  he  spoke  to  him,  "You 
want  to  see  Buddy?  The  doctor's  with  him  now." 

"Wait,"  the  investigator  said.  "I'm  sorry  about  your 

brother's  accident,  but  I "  The  marshal  glanced  back 

at  him  for  a  moment,  his  shaggy  gray  brows  beetling,  with 
something  at  once  courteous  yet  a  little  impatient  about  the 
glance,  so  that  during  the  instant  the  investigator  sensed 
from  the  old  marshal  the  same  quality  which  had  been  in 
the  other's  brief  look.  The  investigator  was  a  man  of  better 
than  average  intelligence;  he  was  already  becoming  aware 
of  something  a  little  different  here  from  what  he  had  ex- 
pected. But  he  had  been  in  relief  work  in  the  state  several 
years,  dealing  almost  exclusively  with  country  people,  so  he 
still  believed  he  knew  them.  So  he  looked  at  the  old  marshal, 
thinking,  Yes.  The  same  sort  of  people,  despite  the  office, 
the  authority  and  responsibility  ivhich  should  have  changed 
him.  Thinking  again,  These  people.  These  people.  "I  in- 
tend to  take  the  night  train  back  to  Jackson,"  he  said.  "My 
reservation  is  already  made.  Serve  the  warrant  and  we 
will " 

"Come  along,"  the  old  marshal  said.  "We  are  going  to 
have  plenty  of  time." 

So  he  followed — there  was  nothing  else  to  do — fuming 
and  seething,  attempting  in  the  short  length  of  the  hall  to 
regain  control  of  himself  in  order  to  control  the  situation, 
because  he  realized  now  that  if  the  situation  were  controlled, 
it  would  devolve  upon  him  to  control  it;  that  if  their  de- 
parture with  their  prisoners  were  expedited,  it  must  be  him- 
self and  not  the  old  marshal  who  would  expedite  it.  He  had 
been  right.  The  doddering  old  officer  was  not  only  at  bot- 


The  Tall  Men  49 

torn  one  of  these  people,  he  had  apparently  been  corrupted 
anew  to  his  old,  inherent,  shiftless  sloth  and  unreliability 
merely  by  entering  the  house.  So  he  followed  in  turn,  down 
the  hall  and  into  a  bedroom;  whereupon  he  looked  about 
him  not  only  with  amazement  but  with  something  very  like 
terror.  The  room  was  a  big  room,  with  a  bare  unpainted 
floor,  and  besides  the  bed,  it  contained  only  a  chair  or  two 
and  one  other  piece  of  old-fashioned  furniture.  Yet  to  the 
investigator  it  seemed  so  filled  with  tremendous  men  cast 
in  the  same  mold  as  the  man  who  had  met  them  that  the 
very  walls  themselves  must  bulge.  Yet  they  were  not  big, 
not  tall,  and  it  was  not  vitality,  exuberance,  because  they 
made  no  sound,  merely  looking  quietly  at  him  where  he 
stood  in  the  door,  with  faces  bearing  an  almost  identical 
stamp  of  kinship — a  thin,  almost  frail  old  man  of  about 
seventy,  slightly  taller  than  the  others;  a  second  one,  white- 
haired,  too,  but  otherwise  identical  with  the  man  who  had 
met  them  at  the  door;  a  third  one  about  the  same  age  as 
the  man  who  had  met  them,  but  with  something  delicate  in 
his  face  and  something  tragic  and  dark  and  wild  in  the  same 
dark  eyes;  the  two  absolutely  identical  blue-eyed  youths; 
and  lastly  the  blue-eyed  man  on  the  bed  over  which  the 
doctor,  who  might  have  been  any  city  doctor,  in  his  neat 
city  suit,  leaned — all  of  them  turning  to  look  quietly  at  him 
and  the  marshal  as  they  entered.  And  he  saw,  past  the  doctor, 
the  slit  trousers  of  the  man  on  the  bed  and  the  exposed, 
bloody,  mangled  leg,  and  he  turned  sick,  stopping  just  in- 
side the  door  under  that  quiet,  steady  regard  while  the 
marshal  went  up  to  the  man  who  lay  on  the  bed,  smoking 
a  cob  pipe,  a  big,  old-fashioned,  wicker-covered  demijohn, 
such  as  the  investigator's  grandfather  had  kept  his  whisky 
in,  on  the  table  beside  him. 

"Well,  Buddy,"  the  marshal  said,  "this  is  bad." 

"Ah,  it  was  my  own  damn  fault,"  the  man  on  the  bed 


50  The  Country 

said.  "Stuart  kept  warning  me  about  that  frame  I  was  using." 

"That's  correct,"  the  second  old  one  said. 

Still  the  others  said  nothing.  They  just  looked  steadily  and 
quietly  at  the  investigator  until  the  marshal  turned  slightly 
and  said,  "This  is  Mr.  Pearson.  From  Jackson.  He's  got  a 
warrant  for  the  boys." 

Then  the  man  on  the  bed  said,  "What  for?" 

"That  draft  business,  Buddy,"  the  marshal  said. 

"We're  not  at  war  now,"  the  man  on  the  bed  said. 

"No,"  the  marshal  said.  "It's  that  new  law.  They  didn't 
register." 

"What  are  you  going  to  do  with  them?" 

"It's  a  warrant,  Buddy.  Swore  out." 

"That  means  jail." 

"It's  a  warrant,"  the  old  marshal  said.  Then  the  investi- 
gator saw  that  the  man  on  the  bed  was  watching  him,  puff- 
ing steadily  at  the  pipe. 

"Pour  me  some  whisky,  Jackson,"  he  said. 

"No,"  the  doctor  said.  "He's  had  too  much  already." 

"Pour  me  some  whisky,  Jackson,"  the  man  on  the  bed 
said.  He  puffed  steadily  at  the  pipe,  looking  at  the  investi- 
gator. "You  come  from  the  Government?"  he  said. 

"Yes,"  the  investigator  said.  "They  should  have  registered. 

That's  all  required  of  them  yet.  They  did  not "  His 

voice  ceased,  while  the  seven  pairs  of  eyes  contemplated  him, 
and  the  man  on  the  bed  puffed  steadily. 

"We  would  have  still  been  here,"  the  man  on  the  bed 
said.  "We  wasn't  going  to  run."  He  turned  his  head.  The 
two  youths  were  standing  side  by  side  at  the  foot  of  the  bed. 
"Anse,  Lucius,"  he  said. 

To  the  investigator  it  sounded  as  if  they  answered  as  one, 
"Yes,  father." 

"This  gentleman  has  come  all  the  way  from  Jackson  to 


The  Tall  Men  51 

say  the  Government  is  ready  for  you.  I  reckon  the  quickest 
place  to  enlist  will  be  Memphis.  Go  upstairs  and  pack." 

The  investigator  started,  moved  forward.  "Wait!"  he 
cried. 

But  Jackson,  the  eldest,  had  forestalled  him.  He  said, 
"Wait,"  also,  and  now  they  were  not  looking  at  the  investi- 
gator. They  were  looking  at  the  doctor. 

"What  about  his  leg?"  Jackson  said. 

"Look  at  it,"  the  doctor  said.  "He  almost  amputated  it 
himself.  It  won't  wait.  And  he  can't  be  moved  now.  I'll 
need  my  nurse  to  help  me,  and  some  ether,  provided  he 
hasn't  had  too  much  whisky  to  stand  the  anesthetic  too. 
One  of  you  can  drive  to  town  in  my  car.  I'll  telephone " 

"Ether?"  the  man  on  the  bed  said.  "What  for?  You  just 
said  yourself  it's  pretty  near  off  now.  I  could  whet  up  one 
of  Jackson's  butcher  knives  and  finish  it  myself,  with  another 
drink  or  two.  Go  on.  Finish  it." 

"You  couldn't  stand  any  more  shock,"  the  doctor  said. 
"This  is  whisky  talking  now." 

"Shucks,"  the  other  said.  "One  day  in  France  we  was 
running  through  a  wheat  field  and  I  saw  the  machine  gun, 
coming  across  the  wheat,  and  I  tried  to  jump  it  like  you 
would  jump  a  fence  rail  somebody  was  swinging  at  your 
middle,  only  I  never  made  it.  And  I  was  on  the  ground  then, 
and  along  toward  dark  that  begun  to  hurt,  only  about  that 
time  something  went  whang  on  the  back  of  my  helmet,  like 
when  you  hit  a  anvil,  so  I  never  knowed  nothing  else  until 
I  woke  up.  There  was  a  heap  of  us  racked  up  along  a  bank 
outside  a  field  dressing  station,  only  it  took  a  long  time  for 
the  doctor  to  get  around  to  all  of  us,  and  by  that  time  it 
was  hurting  bad.  This  here  ain't  hurt  none  to  speak  of  since 
I  got  a-holt  of  this  johnny-jug.  You  go  on  and  finish  it.  If 
it's  help  you  need,  Stuart  and  Rafe  will  help  you.  .  .  .  Pour 
me  a  drink,  Jackson." 


52  The  Country 

This  time  the  doctor  raised  the  demijohn  and  examined 
the  level  of  the  liquor.  "There's  a  good  quart  gone,"  he  said. 
"If  you've  drunk  a  quart  of  whisky  since  four  o'clock,  I 
doubt  if  you  could  stand  the  anesthetic.  Do  you  think  you 
could  stand  it  if  I  finished  it  now?" 

"Yes,  finish  it.  I've  ruined  it;  I  want  to  get  shut  of  it." 

The  doctor  looked  about  at  the  others,  at  the  still,  identical 
faces  watching  him.  "If  I  had  him  in  town,  in  the  hospital, 
with  a  nurse  to  watch  him,  I'd  probably  wait  until  he  got 
over  this  first  shock  and  got  the  whisky  out  of  his  system. 
But  he  can't  be  moved  now,  and  I  can't  stop  the  bleeding 
like  this,  and  even  if  I  had  ether  or  a  local  anesthetic " 

"Shucks,"  the  man  on  the  bed  said.  "God  never  made  no 
better  local  nor  general  comfort  or  anesthetic  neither  than 
what's  in  this  johnny-jug.  And  this  ain't  Jackson's  leg  nor 
Stuart's  nor  Rafe's  nor  Lee's.  It's  mine.  I  done  started  it;  I 
reckon  I  can  finish  cutting  it  off  any  way  I  want  to." 

But  the  doctor  was  still  looking  at  Jackson.  "Well,  Mr. 
McCallum?"  he  said.  "You're  the  oldest." 

But  it  was  Stuart  who  answered.  "Yes,"  he  said.  "Finish 
it.  What  do  you  want?  Hot  water,  I  reckon." 

"Yes,"  the  doctor  said.  "Some  clean  sheets.  Have  you  got 
a  big  table  you  can  move  in  here?" 

"The  kitchen  table,"  the  man  who  had  met  them  at  the 
door  said.  "Me  and  the  boys " 

"Wait,"  the  man  on  the  bed  said.  "The  boys  won't  have 
time  to  help  you."  He  looked  at  them  again.  "Anse,  Lucius," 
he  said. 

Again  it  seemed  to  the  investigator  that  they  answered  as 
one,  "Yes,  father." 

"This  gentleman  yonder  is  beginning  to  look  impatient. 
You  better  start.  Come  to  think  of  it,  you  won't  need  to 
pack.  You  will  have  uniforms  in  a  day  or  two.  Take  the 
truck.  There  won't  be  nobody  to  drive  you  to  Memphis  and 


The  Tall  Men  53 

bring  the  truck  back,  so  you  can  leave  it  at  the  Gayoso 
Feed  Company  until  we  can  send  for  it.  I'd  like  for  you  to 
enlist  into  the  old  Sixth  Infantry,  where  I  used  to  be.  But  I 
reckon  that's  too  much  to  hope,  and  you'll  just  have  to 
chance  where  they  send  you.  But  it  likely  won't  matter, 
once  you  are  in.  The  Government  done  right  by  me  in  my 
day,  and  it  will  do  right  by  you.  You  just  enlist  wherever 
they  want  to  send  you,  need  you,  and  obey  your  sergeants 
and  officers  until  you  find  out  how  to  be  soldiers.  Obey 
them,  but  remember  your  name  and  don't  take  nothing  from 
no  man.  You  can  go  now." 

"Wait!"  the  investigator  cried  again;  again  he  started, 
moved  forward  into  the  center  of  the  room.  "I  protest  this! 
I'm  sorry  about  Mr.  McCallum's  accident.  I'm  sorry  about 
the  whole  business.  But  it's  out  of  my  hands  and  out  of  his 
hands  now.  This  charge,  failure  to  register  according  to  law, 
has  been  made  and  the  warrant  issued.  It  cannot  be  evaded 
this  way.  The  course  of  the  action  must  be  completed  before 
any  other  step  can  be  taken.  They  should  have  thought  of 
this  when  these  boys  failed  to  register.  If  Mr.  Gombault 
refuses  to  serve  this  warrant,  I  will  serve  it  myself  and  take 
these  men  back  to  Jefferson  with  me  to  answer  this  charge 
as  made.  And  I  must  warn  Mr.  Gombault  that  he  will  be 
cited  for  contempt!" 

The  old  marshal  turned,  his  shaggy  eyebrows  beetling 
again,  speaking  down  to  the  investigator  as  if  he  were  a 
child,  "Ain't  you  found  out  yet  that  me  or  you  neither  ain't 
going  nowhere  for  a  while?" 

"What?"  the  investigator  cried.  He  looked  about  at  the 
grave  faces  once  more  contemplating  him  with  that  remote 
and  speculative  regard.  "Am  I  being  threatened?"  he  cried. 

"Ain't  anybody  paying  any  attention  to  you  at  all,"  the 
marshal  said.  "Now  you  just  be  quiet  for  a  while,  and  you 
will  be  all  right,  and  after  a  while  we  can  go  back  to  town." 


54  The  Country 

So  he  stopped  again  and  stood  while  the  grave,  contem- 
plative faces  freed  him  once  more  of  that  impersonal  and 
unbearable  regard,  and  saw  the  two  youths  approach  the 
bed  and  bend  down  in  turn  and  kiss  their  father  on  the 
mouth,  and  then  turn  as  one  and  leave  the  room,  passing 
him  without  even  looking  at  him.  And  sitting  in  the  lamplit 
hall  beside  the  old  marshal,  the  bedroom  door  closed  now, 
he  heard  the  truck  start  up  and  back  and  turn  and  go  down 
the  road,  the  sound  of  it  dying  away,  ceasing,  leaving  the 
Still,  hot  night — the  Mississippi  Indian  summer,  which  had 
already  outlasted  half  of  November — filled  with  the  loud 
last  shrilling  of  the  summer's  cicadas,  as  though  they,  too, 
were  aware  of  the  imminent  season  of  cold  weather  and  of 
death. 

"I  remember  old  Anse,"  the  marshal  said  pleasantly,  chat- 
tily, in  that  tone  in  which  an  adult  addresses  a  strange  child. 
"He's  been  dead  fifteen-sixteen  years  now.  He  was  about 
sixteen  when  the  old  war  broke  out,  and  he  walked  all  the 
way  to  Virginia  to  get  into  it.  He  could  have  enlisted  and 
fought  right  here  at  home,  but  his  ma  was  a  Carter,  so 
wouldn't  nothing  do  him  but  to  go  all  the  way  back  to 
Virginia  to  do  his  fighting,  even  though  he  hadn't  never  seen 
Virginia  before  himself;  walked  all  the  way  back  to  a  land 
he  hadn't  never  even  seen  before  and  enlisted  in  Stonewall 
Jackson's  army  and  stayed  in  it  all  through  the  Valley,  and 
right  up  to  Chancellorsville,  where  them  Carolina  boys  shot 
Jackson  by  mistake,  and  right  on  up  to  that  morning  in 
'Sixty-five  when  Sheridan's  cavalry  blocked  the  road  from 
Appomattox  to  the  Valley,  where  they  might  have  got  away 
again.  And  he  walked  back  to  Mississippi  with  just  about 
what  he  had  carried  away  with  him  when  he  left,  and  he 
got  married  and  built  the  first  story  of  this  house — this  here 
log  story  we're  in  right  now — and  started  getting  them  boys 
• — Jackson  and  Stuart  and  Raphael  and  Lee  and  Buddy. 


The  Tall  Men  55 

"Buddy  come  along  late,  late  enough  to  be  in  the  other 
war,  in  France  in  it.  You  heard  him  in  there.  He  brought 
back  two  medals,  an  American  medal  and  a  French  one,  and 
no  man  knows  till  yet  how  he  got  them,  just  what  he  done. 
I  don't  believe  he  even  told  Jackson  and  Stuart  and  them. 
He  hadn't  hardly  got  back  home,  with  them  numbers  on 
his  uniform  and  the  wound  stripes  and  them  two  medals, 
before  he  had  found  him  a  girl,  found  her  right  off,  and  a  year 
later  them  twin  boys  was  born,  the  livin',  spittin'  image  of 
old  Anse  McCallum.  If  old  Anse  had  just  been  about  seventy- 
five  years  younger,  the  three  of  them  might  have  been 
thriblets.  I  remember  them — two  little  critters  exactly  alike, 
and  wild  as  spikehorn  bucks,  running  around  here  day  and 
night  both  with  a  pack  of  coon  dogs  until  they  got  big 
enough  to  help  Buddy  and  Stuart  and  Lee  with  the  farm 
and  the  gin,  and  Rafe  with  the  horses  and  mules,  when  he 
would  breed  and  raise  and  train  them  and  take  them  to 
Memphis  to  sell,  right  on  up  to  three,  four  years  back,  when 
they  went  to  the  agricultural  college  for  a  year  to  learn 
more  about  whiteface  cattle. 

"That  was  after  Buddy  and  them  had  quit  raising  cotton. 
I  remember  that  too.  It  was  when  the  Government  first 
begun  to  interfere  with  how  a  man  farmed  his  own  land, 
raised  his  cotton.  Stabilizing  the  price,  using  up  the  surplus, 
they  called  it,  giving  a  man  advice  and  help,  whether  he 
wanted  it  or  not.  You  may  have  noticed  them  boys  in  yon- 
der tonight;  curious  folks  almost,  you  might  call  them.  That 
first  year,  when  county  agents  was  trying  to  explain  the 
new  system  to  farmers,  the  agent  come  out  here  and  tried 
to  explain  it  to  Buddy  and  Lee  and  Stuart,  explaining  how 
they  would  cut  down  the  crop,  but  that  the  Government 
would  pay  farmers  the  difference,  and  so  they  would  ac- 
tually be  better  off  than  trying  to  farm  by  themselves. 

"  'Why,  we're  much  obliged,'  Buddy  says.  'But  we  don't 


56  The  Country 

need  no  help.  We'll  just  make  the  cotton  like  we  always 
done;  if  we  can't  make  a  crop  of  it,  that  will  just  be  our  look- 
out and  our  loss,  and  we'll  try  again.' 

"So  they  wouldn't  sign  no  papers  nor  no  cards  nor  noth- 
ing. They  just  went  on  and  made  the  cotton  like  old  Anse 
had  taught  them  to;  it  was  like  they  just  couldn't  believe 
that  the  Government  aimed  to  help  a  man  whether  he 
wanted  help  or  not,  aimed  to  interfere  with  how  much  of 
anything  he  could  make  by  hard  work  on  his  own  land, 
making  the  crop  and  ginning  it  right  here  in  their  own  gin, 
like  they  had  always  done,  and  hauling  it  to  town  to  sell, 
hauling  it  all  the  way  into  Jefferson  before  they  found  out 
they  couldn't  sell  it  because,  in  the  first  place,  they  had 
made  too  much  of  it  and,  in  the  second  place,  they  never 
had  no  card  to  sell  what  they  would  have  been  allowed.  So 
they  hauled  it  back.  The  gin  wouldn't  hold  all  of  it,  so  they 
put  some  of  it  under  Raf  e's  mule  shed  and  they  put  the  rest 
of  it  right  here  in  the  hall  where  we  are  setting  now,  where 
they  would  have  to  walk  around  it  all  winter  and  keep  them- 
selves reminded  to  be  sho  and  fill  out  that  card  next  time. 

"Only  next  year  they  didn't  fill  out  no  papers  neither.  It 
was  like  they  still  couldn't  believe  it,  still  believed  in  the 
freedom  and  liberty  to  make  or  break  according  to  a  man's 
fitness  and  will  to  work,  guaranteed  by  the  Government 
that  old  Anse  had  tried  to  tear  in  two  once  and  failed,  and 
admitted  in  good  faith  he  had  failed  and  taken  the  conse- 
quences, and  that  had  give  Buddy  a  medal  and  taken  care 
of  him  when  he  was  far  away  from  home  in  a  strange  land 
and  hurt. 

"So  they  made  that  second  crop.  And  they  couldn't  sell  it 
to  nobody  neither  because  they  never  had  no  cards.  This 
time  they  built  a  special  shed  to  put  it  under,  and  I  remember 
how  in  that  second  winter  Buddy  come  to  town  one  day  to 
see  Lawyer  Gavin  Stevens.  Not  for  legal  advice  how  to  sue 


The  Tall  Men  57 

the  Government  or  somebody  into  buying  the  cotton,  even 
if  they  never  had  no  card  for  it,  but  just  to  find  out  why.  'I 
was  for  going  ahead  and  signing  up  for  it,'  Buddy  says.  'If 
that's  going  to  be  the  new  rule.  But  we  talked  it  over,  and 
Jackson  ain't  no  farmer,  but  he  knowed  father  longer  than 
the  rest  of  us,  and  he  said  father  would  have  said  no,  and  I 
reckon  now  he  would  have  been  right.' 

"So  they  didn't  raise  any  more  cotton;  they  had  a  plenty 
of  it  to  last  a  while — twenty-two  bales,  I  think  it  was.  That 
was  when  they  went  into  whitef ace  cattle,  putting  old  Anse's 
cotton  land  into  pasture,  because  that's  what  he  would  have 
wanted  them  to  do  if  the  only  way  they  could  raise  cotton 
was  by  the  Government  telling  them  how  much  they  could 
raise  and  how  much  they  could  sell  it  for,  and  where,  and 
when,  and  then  pay  them  for  not  doing  the  work  they  didn't 
do.  Only  even  when  they  didn't  raise  cotton,  every  year  the 
county  agent's  young  fellow  would  come  out  to  measure 
the  pasture  crops  they  planted  so  he  could  pay  them  for  that, 
even  if  they  never  had  no  not-cotton  to  be  paid  for.  Except 
that  he  never  measured  no  crop  on  this  place.  i You're  wel- 
come to  look  at  what  we  are  doing,'  Buddy  says.  'But  don't 
draw  it  down  on  your  map.' 

"  'But  you  can  get  money  for  this,'  the  young  fellow  says. 
'The  Government  wants  to  pay  you  for  planting  all  this.' 

"  'We  are  aiming  to  get  money  for  it,'  Buddy  says.  'When 
we  can't,  we  will  try  something  else.  But  not  from  the  Gov- 
ernment. Give  that  to  them  that  want  to  take  it.  We  can 
make  out.' 

"And  that's  about  all.  Them  twenty-two  bales  of  orphan 
cotton  are  down  yonder  in  the  gin  right  now,  because 
there's  room  for  it  in  the  gin  now  because  they  ain't  using 
the  gin  no  more.  And  them  boys  grew  up  and  went  off  a  year 
to  the  agricultural  college  to  learn  right  about  whiteface 
cattle,  and  then  come  back  to  the  rest  of  them — these  here 


58  The  Country 

curious  folks  living  off  here  to  themselves,  with  the  rest  of 
the  world  all  full  of  pretty  neon  lights  burning  night  and 
day  both,  and  easy,  quick  money  scattering  itself  around 
everywhere  for  any  man  to  grab  a  little,  and  every  man  with 
a  shiny  new  automobile  already  wore  out  and  throwed  away 
and  the  new  one  delivered  before  the  first  one  was  even  paid 
for,  and  everywhere  a  fine  loud  grabble  and  snatch  of  AAA 
and  WPA  and  a  dozen  other  three-letter  reasons  for  a  man 
not  to  work.  Then  this  here  draft  comes  along,  and  these 
curious  folks  ain't  got  around  to  signing  that  neither,  and 
you  come  all  the  way  up  from  Jackson  with  your  paper  all 
signed  and  regular,  and  we  come  out  here,  and  after  a  while 
we  can  go  back  to  town.  A  man  gets  around,  don't  he?" 

"Yes,"  the  investigator  said.  "Do  you  suppose  we  can  go 
back  to  town  now?" 

"No,"  the  marshal  told  him  in  that  same  kindly  tone,  "not 
just  yet.  But  we  can  leave  after  a  while.  Of  course  you  will 
miss  your  train.  But  there  will  be  another  one  tomorrow." 

He  rose,  though  the  investigator  had  heard  nothing.  The 
investigator  watched  him  go  down  the  hall  and  open  the  bed- 
room door  and  enter  and  close  it  behind  him.  The  investiga- 
tor sat  quietly,  listening  to  the  night  sounds  and  looking  at 
the  closed  door  until  it  opened  presently  and  the  marshal 
came  back,  carrying  something  in  a  bloody  sheet,  carrying  it 
gingerly. 

"Here,"  he  said.  "Hold  it  a  mihute." 

"It's  bloody,"  the  investigator  said. 

"That's  all  right,"  the  marshal  said.  "We  can  wash  when 
we  get  through."  So  the  investigator  took  the  bundle  and 
stood  holding  it  while  he  watched  the  old  marshal  go  back 
down  the  hall  and  on  through  it  and  vanish  and  return  pres- 
ently with  a  lighted  lantern  and  a  shovel.  "Come  along,"  he 
said.  "We're  pretty  near  through  now." 

The  investigator  followed  him  out  of  the  house  and  across 


The  Tall  Men  59 

the  yard,  carrying  gingerly  the  bloody,  shattered,  heavy 
bundle  in  which  it  still  seemed  to  him  he  could  feel  some 
warmth  of  life,  the  marshal  striding  on  ahead,  the  lantern 
swinging  against  his  leg,  the  shadow  of  his  striding  scissoring 
and  enormous  along  the  earth,  his  voice  still  coming  back 
over  his  shoulder,  chatty  and  cheerful,  "Yes,  sir.  A  man  gets 
around  and  he  sees  a  heap;  a  heap  of  folks  in  a  heap  of  situa- 
tions. The  trouble  is,  we  done  got  into  the  habit  of  confus- 
ing the  situations  with  the  folks.  Take  yourself,  now,"  he 
said  in  that  same  kindly  tone,  chatty  and  easy;  "you  mean 
all  right.  You  just  went  and  got  yourself  all  fogged  up  with 
rules  and  regulations.  That's  our  trouble.  We  done  invented 
ourselves  so  many  alphabets  and  rules  and  recipes  that  we 
can't  see  anything  else;  if  what  we  see  can't  be  fitted  to  an 
alphabet  or  a  rule,  we  are  lost.  We  have  come  to  be  like 
critters  doctor  folks  might  have  created  in  laboratories,  that 
have  learned  how  to  slip  off  their  bones  and  guts  and  still 
live,  still  be  kept  alive  indefinite  and  forever  maybe  even 
without  even  knowing  the  bones  and  the  guts  are  gone.  We 
have  slipped  our  backbone;  we  have  about  decided  a  man 
don't  need  a  backbone  any  more;  to  have  one  is  old-fashioned. 
But  the  groove  where  the  backbone  used  to  be  is  still  there, 
and  the  backbone  has  been  kept  alive,  too,  and  someday 
we're  going  to  slip  back  onto  it.  I  don't  know  just  when  nor 
just  how  much  of  a  wrench  it  will  take  to  teach  us,  but 
someday." 

They  had  left  the  yard  now.  They  were  mounting  a  slope; 
ahead  of  them  the  investigator  could  see  another  clump  of 
cedars,  a  small  clump,  somehow  shaggily  formal  against  the 
starred  sky.  The  marshal  entered  it  and  stopped  and  set  the 
lantern  down  and,  following  with  the  bundle,  the  investiga- 
tor saw  a  small  rectangle  of  earth  enclosed  by  a  low  brick 
coping.  Then  he  saw  the  two  graves,  or  the  headstones — 
two  plain  granite  slabs  set  upright  in  the  earth. 


60  The  Country 

"Old  Anse  and  Mrs.  Anse,"  the  marshal  said.  "Buddy's 
wife  wanted  to  be  buried  with  her  folks.  I  reckon  she  would 
have  been  right  lonesome  up  here  with  just  McCallums.  Now, 
let's  see."  He  stood  for  a  moment,  his  chin  in  his  hand;  to  the 
investigator  he  looked  exactly  like  an  old  lady  trying  to  de- 
cide where  to  set  out  a  shrub.  "They  was  to  run  from  left  to 
right,  beginning  with  Jackson.  But  after  the  boys  was  born^ 
Jackson  and  Stuart  was  to  come  up  here  by  their  pa  and  mat 
so  Buddy  could  move  up  some  and  make  room.  So  he  will  be 
about  here."  He  moved  the  lantern  nearer  and  took  up  the 
shovel.  Then  he  saw  the  investigator  still  holding  the  bundle. 
"Set  it  down,"  he  said.  "I  got  to  dig  first." 

"I'll  hold  it,"  the  investigator  said. 

"Nonsense,  put  it  down."  the  marshal  said.  "Buddy  won't 
mind." 

So  the  investigator  put  the  bundle  down  on  the  brick  cop- 
ing and  the  marshal  began  to  dig,  skillfully  and  rapidly,  still 
talking  in  that  cheerful,  interminable  voice,  "Yes,  sir.  We 
done  forgot  about  folks.  Life  has  done  got  cheap,  and  life 
ain't  cheap.  Life's  a  pretty  durn  valuable  thing.  I  don't  mean 
just  getting  along  from  one  WPA  relief  check  to  the  next 
one,  but  honor  and  pride  and  discipline  that  make  a  man 
worth  preserving,  make  him  of  any  value.  That's  what  we 
got  to  learn  again.  Maybe  it  takes  trouble,  bad  trouble,  to 
teach  it  back  to  us;  maybe  it  was  the  walking  to  Virginia 
because  that's  where  his  ma  come  from,  and  losing  a  war  and 
then  walking  back,  that  taught  it  to  old  Anse.  Anyway,  he 
seems  to  learned  it,  and  to  learned  it  good  enough  to  bequeath 
it  to  his  boys.  Did  you  notice  how  all  Buddy  had  to  do  was 
to  tell  them  boys  of  his  it  was  time  to  go,  because  the  Gov- 
ernment had  sent  them  word?  And  how  they  told  him 
good-by?  Crowned  men  kissing  one  another  without  hiding 
and  without  shame.  Maybe  that's  what  I  am  trying  to  say. 
,  .  .  There."  he  said.  "That's  big  enough." 


The  Tall  Men  61 

He  moved  quickly,  easily;  before  the  investigator  could 
stir,  he  had  lifted  the  bundle  into  the  narrow  trench  and  was 
covering  it,  covering  it  as  rapidly  as  he  had  dug,  smoothing 
the  earth  over  it  with  the  shovel.  Then  he  stood  up  and  raised 
the  lantern — a  tall,  lean  old  man,  breathing  easily  and  lightly. 

"I  reckon  we  can  go  back  to  town  now,"  he  said. 


A  Bear  Hunt 


RATLIFF  is  TELLING  THIS.  He  is  a  sewing-machine  agent;  time 
was  when  he  traveled  about  our  county  in  a  light,  strong 
buckboard  drawn  by  a  sturdy,  wiry,  mismatched  team  of 
horses;  now  he  uses  a  model  T  Ford,  which  also  carries  his 
demonstrator  machine  in  a  tin  box  on  the  rear,  shaped  like  a 
dog  kennel  and  painted  to  resemble  a  house. 

Ratliff  may  be  seen  anywhere  without  surprise — the  only 
man  present  at  the  bazaars  and  sewing  bees  of  farmers'  wives; 
moving  among  both  men  and  women  at  all-day  singings  at 
country  churches,  and  singing,  too,  in  a  pleasant  barytone. 
He  was  even  at  this  bear  hunt  of  which  he  speaks,  at  the 
annual  hunting  camp  of  Major  de  Spain  in  the  river  bottom 
twenty  miles  from  town,  even  though  there  was  no  one 
there  to  whom  he  might  possibly  have  sold  a  machine,  since 
Mrs.  de  Spain  doubtless  already  owned  one,  unless  she  had 
given  it  to  one  of  her  married  daughters,  and  the  other  man — 
the  man  called  Lucius  Provine — with  whom  he  became  in- 
volved, to  the  violent  detriment  of  his  face  and  other  mem- 
bers, could  not  have  bought  one  for  his  wife  even  if  he 
would,  without  Ratliff  sold  it  to  him  on  indefinite  credit. 

Provine  is  also  a  native  of  the  county.  But  he  is  forty  now 
and  most  of  his  teeth  are  gone,  and  it  is  years  now  since  he 
and  his  dead  brother  and  another  dead  and  forgotten  con- 
temporary named  Jack  Bonds  were  known  as  the  Provine 


64  The  Country 

gang  and  terrorized  our  quiet  town  after  the  unimaginative 
fashion  of  wild  youth  by  letting  off  pistols  on  the  square  late 
Saturday  nights  or  galloping  their  horses  down  scurrying 
and  screaming  lanes  of  churchgoing  ladies  on  Sunday  morn- 
ing. Younger  citizens  of  the  town  do  not  know  him  at  all 
save  as  a  tall,  apparently  strong  and  healthy  man  who  loafs 
in  a  brooding,  saturnine  fashion  wherever  he  will  be  allowed, 
never  exactly  accepted  by  any  group,  and  who  makes  no 
effort  whatever  to  support  his  wife  and  three  children. 

There  are  other  men  among  us  now  whose  families  are  in 
want;  men  who,  perhaps,  would  not  work  anyway,  but  who 
now,  since  the  last  few  years,  cannot  find  work.  These  all 
attain  and  hold  to  a  certain  respectability  by  acting  as  agents 
for  the  manufacturers  of  minor  articles  like  soap  and  men's 
toilet  accessories  and  kitchen  objects,  being  seen  constantly 
about  the  square  and  the  streets  carrying  small  black  sample 
cases.  One  day,  to  our  surprise,  Provine  also  appeared  with 
such  a  case,  though  within  less  than  a  week  the  town  officers 
discovered  that  it  contained  whisky  in  pint  bottles.  Major 
de  Spain  extricated  him  somehow,  as  it  was  Major  de  Spain 
who  supported  his  family  by  eking  out  the  money  which 
Mrs.  Provine  earned  by  sewing  and  such — perhaps  as  a 
Roman  gesture  of  salute  and  farewell  to  the  bright  figure 
which  Provine  had  been  before  time  whipped  him. 

For  there  are  older  men  who  remember  the  Butch — he  has 
even  lost  somewhere  in  his  shabby  past  the  lusty  dare-devil- 
try of  the  nickname — Provine  of  twenty  years  ago;  that 
youth  without  humor,  yet  with  some  driving,  inarticulate 
zest  for  breathing  which  has  long  since  burned  out  of  him, 
who  performed  in  a  fine  frenzy,  which  was,  perhaps,  mostly 
alcohol,  certain  outrageous  and  spontaneous  deeds,  one  of 
which  was  the  Negro-picnic  business.  The  picnic  was  at  a 
Negro  church  a  few  miles  from  town.  In  the  midst  of  it,  the 
two  Provines  and  Jack  Bonds,  returning  from  a  dance  in  the 


A  Bear  Hunt  65 

country,  rode  up  with  drawn  pistols  and  freshly  lit  cigars; 
and  taking  the  Negro  men  one  by  one,  held  the  burning  cigar 
ends  to  the  popular  celluloid  collars  of  the  day,  leaving  each 
victim's  neck  ringed  with  an  abrupt  and  faint  and  painless 
ling  of  carbon.  This  is  he  of  whom  Ratliff  is  talking. 

But  there  is  one  thing  more  which  must  be  told  here  in 
order  to  set  the  stage  for  Ratliff.  Five  miles  farther  down  the 
river  from  Major  de  Spain's  camp,  and  in  an  even  wilder  part 
of  the  river's  jungle  of  cane  and  gum  and  pin  oak,  there  is  an 
Indian  mound.  Aboriginal,  it  rises  profoundly  and  darkly 
enigmatic,  the  only  elevation  of  any  kind  in  the  wild,  flat 
jungle  of  river  bottom.  Even  to  some  of  us — children  though 
we  were,  yet  we  were  descended  of  literate,  town-bred  peo- 
ple— it  possessed  inferences  of  secret  and  violent  blood,  of 
savage  and  sudden  destruction,  as  though  the  yells  and  hatch- 
ets which  we  associated  with  Indians  through  the  hidden  and 
secret  dime  novels  which  we  passed  among  ourselves  were 
but  trivial  and  momentary  manifestations  of  what  dark 
power  still  dwelled  or  lurked  there,  sinister,  a  little  sar- 
donic, like  a  dark  and  nameless  beast  lightly  and  lazily  slum- 
bering with  bloody  jaws — this,  perhaps,  due  to  the  fact  that 
a  remnant  of  a  once  powerful  clan  of  the  Chickasaw  tribe 
still  lived  beside  it  under  Government  protection.  They  now 
had  American  names  and  they  lived  as  the  sparse  white  peo- 
ple who  surrounded  them  in  turn  lived. 

Yet  we  never  saw  them,  since  they  never  came  to  town, 
having  their  own  settlement  and  store.  When  we  grew  older 
we  realized  that  they  were  no  wilder  or  more  illiterate  than 
the  white  people,  and  that  probably  their  greatest  deviation 
from  the  norm — and  this,  in  our  country,  no  especial  devia- 
tion— was  the  fact  that  they  were  a  little  better  than  suspect 
to  manufacture  moonshine  whisky  back  in  the  swamps.  Yet 
to  us,  as  children,  they  were  a  little  fabulous,  their  swamp- 
hidden  lives  inextricable  from  the  life  of  the  dark  mound, 


66  The  Country 

which  some  of  us  had  never  seen,  yet  of  which  we  had  all 
heard,  as  though  they  had  been  set  by  the  dark  powers  to  be. 
guardians  of  it. 

As  I  said,  some  of  us  had  never  seen  the  mound,  yet  all  of 
us  had  heard  of  it,  talked  of  it  as  boys  will.  It  was  as  much  a 
part  of  our  lives  and  background  as  the  land  itself,  as  the  lost 
Civil  War  and  Sherman's  march,  or  that  there  were  Negroes 
among  us  living  in  economic  competition  who  bore  our 
family  names;  only  more  immediate,  more  potential  and  alive. 
When  I  was  fifteen,  a  companion  and  I,  on  a  dare,  went  into 
the  mound  one  day  just  at  sunset.  We  saw  some  of  those  In- 
dians for  the  first  time;  we  got  directions  from  them  and 
reached  the  top  of  the  mound  just  as  the  sun  set.  We  had 
camping  equipment  with  us,  but  we  made  no  fire.  We  didn't 
even  make  down  our  beds.  We  just  sat  side  by  side  on  that 
mound  until  it  became  light  enough  to  find  our  way  back  to 
the  road.  We  didn't  talk.  When  we  looked  at  each  other  in 
the  gray  dawn,  our  faces  were  gray,  too,  quiet,  very  grave. 
When  we  reached  town  again,  we  didn't  talk  either.  We  just 
parted  and  went  home  and  went  to  bed.  That's  what  we 
thought,  felt,  about  the  mound.  We  were  children,  it  is  true, 
yet  we  were  descendants  of  people  who  read  books  and  who 
were — or  should  have  been — beyond  superstition  and  im- 
pervious to  mindless  fear. 

Now  Ratliff  tells  about  Lucius  Provine  and  his  hiccup. 

When  I  got  back  to  town,  the  first  fellow  I  met  says, 
"What  happened  to  your  face,  Ratliff?  Was  De  Spain  using 
you  in  place  of  his  bear  hounds?" 

"No,  boys,"  I  says.  "Hit  was  a  cattymount." 

"What  was  you  trying  to  do  to  hit,  Ratliff?"  a  fellow  says. 

"Boys,"  I  says,  "be  dog  if  I  know." 

And  that  was  the  truth.  Hit  was  a  good  while  after  they 
had  done  hauled  Luke  Provine  offen  me  that  I  found  that 


A  Bear  Hunt  67 

out.  Because  I  never  knowed  who  Old  Man  Ash  was,  no 
more  than  Luke  did.  I  just  knowed  that  he  was  Major's  nig- 
ger, a-helping  around  camp.  All  I  knowed,  when  the  whole 
thing  started,  was  what  I  thought  I  was  aiming  to  do — to 
maybe  help  Luke  sho  enough,  or  maybe  at  the  outside  to  just 
have  a  little  fun  with  him  without  hurting  him,  or  even 
maybe  to  do  Major  a  little  favor  by  getting  Luke  outen  camp 
for  a  while.  And  then  hyer  hit  is  about  midnight  and  that 
durn  fellow  comes  swurging  outen  the  woods  wild  as  a 
skeered  deer,  and  runs  in  where  they  are  setting  at  the  poker 
game,  and  I  says,  "Well,  you  ought  to  be  satisfied.  You  done 
run  clean  out  from  under  them."  And  he  stopped  dead  still 
and  give  me  a  kind  of  glare  of  wild  astonishment;  he  didn't 
even  know  that  they  had  quit;  and  then  he  swurged  all  over 
me  like  a  barn  falling  down. 

Hit  sho  stopped  that  poker  game.  Hit  taken  three  or  four 
of  them  to  drag  him  off  en  me,  with  Major  turned  in  his  chair 
with  a  set  of  threes  in  his  hand,  a-hammering  on  the  table 
and  hollering  cusses.  Only  a  right  smart  of  the  helping  they 
done  was  stepping  on  my  face  and  hands  and  feet.  Hit  was 
like  a  fahr — the  fellows  with  the  water  hose  done  the  most 
part  of  the  damage. 

"What  the  tarnation  hell  does  this  mean?"  Major  hollers, 
with  three  or  four  fellows  holding  Luke,  and  him  crying  like 
a  baby. 

"He  set  them  on  me!"  Luke  says.  "He  was  the  one  sent  me 
up  there,  and  I'm  a-going  to  kill  him!" 

"Set  who  on  you?"  Major  says. 

"Them  Indians!"  Luke  says,  crying.  Then  he  tried  to  get 
at  me  again,  flinging  them  fellows  holding  his  arms  around 
like  they  was  rag  dolls,  until  Major  pure  cussed  him  quiet. 
He's  a  man  yet.  Don't  let  hit  fool  you  none  because  he  claims 
he  ain't  strong  enough  to  work.  Maybe  hit's  because  he  ain't 
never  wore  his  strength  down  toting  around  one  of  them 


68  The  Country 

little  black  satchels  full  of  pink  galluses  and  shaving  soap. 
Then  Major  asked  me  what  hit  was  all  about,  and  I  told  him 
how  I  had  just  been  trying  to  help  Luke  get  shed  of  them 
hiccups. 

Be  dog  if  I  didn't  feel  right  sorry  for  him.  I  happened  to 
be  passing  out  that  way,  and  so  I  just  thought  I  would  drop 
in  on  them  and  see  what  luck  they  was  having,  and  I  druv  up 
about  sundown,  and  the  first  fellow  I  see  was  Luke.  I  wasn't 
surprised,  since  this  here  would  be  the  biggest  present  gather- 
ing of  men  in  the  county,  let  alone  the  free  eating  and 
whisky,  so  I  says,  "Well,  this  is  a  surprise."  And  he  says: 

"Hic-uh!  Hic-ow!  Hic-oh!  Hie— oh,  God!"  He  had  done 
already  had  them  since  nine  o'clock  the  night  before;  he  had 
been  teching  the  jug  ever'  time  Major  offered  him  one  and 
ever'  time  he  could  get  to  hit  when  Old  Man  Ash  wasn't 
looking;  and  two  days  before  Major  had  killed  a  bear,  and  I 
reckon  Luke  had  already  et  more  possum-rich  bear  pork — 
let  alone  the  venison  they  had,  with  maybe  a  few  coons  and 
squirls  throwed  in  for  seasoning — than  he  could  have  hauled 
off  in  a  waggin.  So  here  he  was,  going  three  times  to  the  min- 
ute, like  one  of  these  here  clock  bombs;  only  hit  was  bear 
meat  and  whisky  instead  of  dynamite,  and  so  he  couldn't  ex- 
plode and  put  himself  outen  his  misery. 

They  told  me  how  he  had  done  already  kept  ever'body 
awake  most  of  the  night  before,  and  how  Major  got  up  mad 
anyway,  and  went  off  with  his  gun  and  Ash  to  handle  them 
two  bear  hounds,  and  Luke  following — outen  pure  misery,  I 
reckon,  since  he  hadn't  slept  no  more  than  nobody  else — 
walking  along  behind  Major,  saying,  "Hic-ah!  Hic-ow!  Hic- 
oh!  Hie — oh,  Lord! "  until  Major  turns  on  him  and  says: 

"Get  to  hell  over  yonder  with  them  shotgun  fellows  on 
the  deer  stands.  How  do  you  expect  me  to  walk  up  on  a  bear 
or  even  hear  the  dogs  when  they  strike?  I  might  as  well  be 
riding  a  motorcycle." 


A  Bear  Hunt  69 

So  Luke  went  on  back  to  where  the  deer  standers  was 
along  the  log-line  levee.  I  reckon  he  never  so  much  went 
away  as  he  kind  of  died  away  in  the  distance  like  that  ere  mo- 
torcycle Major  mentioned.  He  never  tried  to  be  quiet.  I 
reckon  he  knowed  hit  wouldn't  be  no  use.  He  never  tried  to 
keep  to  the  open,  neither.  I  reckon  he  thought  that  any  fool 
would  know  from  his  sound  that  he  wasn't  no  deer.  No.  I 
reckon  he  was  so  mizzable  by  then  that  he  hoped  somebody 
would  shoot  him.  But  nobody  never,  and  he  come  to  the  first 
stand,  where  Uncle  Ike  McCaslin  was,  and  set  down  on  a  log 
behind  Uncle  Ike  with  his  elbows  on  his  knees  and  his  face 
in  his  hands,  going,  "Hic-uh!  Hic-uh!  Hic-uh!  Hic-uh!" 
until  Uncle  Ike  turns  and  says: 

"Confound  you,  boy;  get  away  from  here.  Do  you  reckon 
any  varmint  in  the  world  is  going  to  walk  up  to  a  hay  baler? 
Go  drink  some  water." 

"I  done  already  done  that,"  Luke  says,  without  moving. 
"I  been  drinking  water  since  nine  o'clock  last  night.  I  done 
already  drunk  so  much  water  that  if  I  was  to  fall  down  I 
would  gush  like  a  artesian  well." 

"Well,  go  away  anyhow,"  Uncle  Ike  says.  "Get  away 
from  here." 

So  Luke  gets  up  and  kind  of  staggers  away  again,  kind  of 
dying  away  again  like  he  was  run  by  one  of  these  hyer  one- 
cylinder  gasoline  engines,  only  a  durn  sight  more  often  and 
regular.  He  went  on  down  the  levee  to  where  the  next  stand 
was,  and  they  druv  him  way  from  there,  and  he  went  on 
toward  the  next  one.  I  reckon  he  was  still  hoping  that  some- 
body would  take  pity  on  him  and  shoot  him,  because  now  he 
kind  of  seemed  to  give  up.  Now,  when  he  come  to  the  "oh, 
God"  part  of  hit,  they  said  you  could  hyear  him  clean  back 
to  camp.  They  said  he  would  echo  back  from  the  canebrake 
across  the  river  like  one  of  these  hyer  loud-speakers  down  in 
a  well.  They  said  that  even  the  dogs  on  the  trail  quit  baying, 


70  The  Country 

and  so  they  all  come  up  and  made  him  come  back  to  camp. 
That's  where  he  was  when  I  come  in.  And  Old  Man  Ash  was 
there,  too,  where  him  and  Major  had  done  come  in  so  Major 
could  take  a  nap,  and  neither  me  nor  Luke  noticing  him 
except  as  just  another  nigger  around. 

That  was  hit.  Neither  one  of  us  knowed  or  even  thought 
about  him.  I  be  dog  if  hit  don't  look  like  sometimes  that  when 
a  fellow  sets  out  to  play  a  joke,  hit  ain't  another  fellow  he's 
playing  that  joke  on;  hit's  a  kind  of  big  power  laying  still 
somewhere  in  the  dark  that  he  sets  out  to  prank  with  without 
knowing  hit,  and  hit  all  depends  on  whether  that  ere  power  is 
in  the  notion  to  take  a  joke  or  not,  whether  or  not  hit  blows 
up  right  in  his  face  like  this  one  did  in  mine.  Because  I  says, 
"You  done  had  them  since  nine  o'clock  yesterday?  That's 
nigh  twenty-four  hours.  Seems  like  to  me  you'd  'a'  done 
something  to  try  to  stop  them."  And  him  looldng  at  me  like 
he  couldn't  make  up  his  mind  whether  to  jump  up  and  bite 
my  head  off  or  just  to  try  and  bite  hisn  off,  saying  "Hic-uh! 
Hic-uh!"  slow  and  regular.  Then  he  says, 

"I  don't  want  to  get  shed  of  them.  I  like  them.  But  if  you 
had  them,  I  would  get  shed  of  them  for  you.  You  want  to 
know  how?" 

"How?  "I  says. 

"I'd  just  tear  your  head  off.  Then  you  wouldn't  have 
nothing  to  hiccup  with.  They  wouldn't  worry  you  then. 
I'd  be  glad  to  do  hit  for  you." 

"Sho  now,"  I  says,  looking  at  him  setting  there  on  the 
kitchen  steps — hit  was  after  supper,  but  he  hadn't  et  none, 
being  as  his  throat  had  done  turned  into  a  one-way  street  on 
him,  you  might  say — going  "Hic-uh!  Hic-oh!  Hic-oh!  Hic- 
uh!"  because  I  reckon  Major  had  done  told  him  what  would 
happen  to  him  if  he  taken  to  hollering  again.  I  never  meant  no 
harm.  Besides,  they  had  done  already  told  me  how  he  had 
kept  everybody  awake  all  night  the  night  before  and  had 


A  Bear  Hunt  yj 

done  skeered  all  the  game  outen  that  part  of  the  bottom,  and 
besides,  the  walk  might  help  him  to  pass  his  own  time.  So 
I  says,  "I  believe  I  know  how  you  might  get  shed  of  them. 
But,  of  course,  if  you  don't  want  to  get  shed  of  them " 

And  he  says,  "I  just  wish  somebody  would  tell  me  how. 
I'd  pay  ten  dollars  just  to  set  here  for  one  minute  without 

saying  'hie' "  Well,  that  set  him  off  sho  enough.  Hit 

was  like  up  to  that  time  his  insides  had  been  satisfied  with 
going  uhic-uh"  steady,  but  quiet,  but  now,  when  he  re- 
minded himself,  hit  was  like  he  had  done  opened  a  cut-out, 
because  right  away  he  begun  hollering,  "Hie — oh,  God!"  like 
when  them  fellows  on  the  deer  stands  had  made  him  come 
back  to  camp,  and  I  heard  Major's  feet  coming  bup-bup-bup 
across  the  floor.  Even  his  feet  sounded  mad,  and  I  says  quick, 

"Sh-h-h-h!  You  don't  want  to  get  Major  mad  again,  now." 

So  he  quieted  some,  setting  there  on  the  kitchen  steps, 
with  Old  Man  Ash  and  the  other  niggers  moving  around 
inside  the  kitchen,  and  he  says,  "I  will  try  anything  you  can 
sujest.  I  done  tried  ever' thing  I  knowed  and  ever'thing  any- 
body else  told  me  to.  I  done  held  my  breath  and  drunk  water 
until  I  feel  just  like  one  of  these  hyer  big  automobile  tahrs 
they  use  to  advertise  with,  and  I  hung  by  my  knees  offen 
that  limb  yonder  for  fifteen  minutes  and  drunk  a  pint  bottle 
full  of  water  upside  down,  and  somebody  said  to  swallow  a 
buckshot  and  I  done  that.  And  still  I  got  them.  What  do  you 
know  that  I  can  do?" 

"Well,"  I  says,  "I  don't  know  what  you  would  do.  But  if 
hit  was  me  that  had  them,  I'd  go  up  to  the  mound  and  get 
old  John  Basket  to  cure  me." 

Then  he  set  right  still,  and  then  he  turned  slow  and  looked 
at  me;  I  be  dog  if  for  a  minute  he  didn't  even  hiccup.  "John 
Basket?"  he  says. 

"Sho,"  I  says.  "Them  Indians  knows  all  sorts  of  dodges  that 
white  doctors  ain't  hyeard  about  yet.  He'd  be  glad  to  do 


j2  The  Country 

that  much  for  a  white  man,  too,  them  pore  aboriginees 
would,  because  the  white  folks  have  been  so  good  to  them — 
not  only  letting  them  keep  that  ere  hump  of  dirt  that  don't 
nobody  want  noways,  but  letting  them  use  names  like  ourn 
and  selling  them  flour  and  sugar  and  farm  tools  at  not  no 
more  than  a  fair  profit  above  what  they  would  cost  a  white 
man.  I  hyear  tell  how  pretty  soon  they  are  even  going  to  start 
letting  them  come  to  town  once  a  week.  Old  Basket  would 
be  glad  to  cure  them  hiccups  for  you." 

"John  Basket,"  he  says;  "them  Indians,"  he  says,  hiccuping 
slow  and  quiet  and  steady.  Then  he  says  right  sudden,  "I  be 
dog  if  I  will!"  Then  I  be  dog  if  hit  didn't  sound  like  he  was 
crying.  He  jumped  up  and  stood  there  cussing,  sounding  like 
he  was  crying.  "Hit  ain't  a  man  hyer  has  got  any  mercy  on 
me,  white  or  black.  Hyer  I  done  suffered  and  suffered  more 
than  twenty-four  hours  without  food  or  sleep,  and  not  a 
sonabitch  of  them  has  any  mercy  or  pity  on  me!" 

"Well,  I  was  trying  to,"  I  says.  "Hit  ain't  me  that's  got 
them.  I  just  thought,  seeing  as  how  you  had  done  seemed  to 
got  to  the  place  where  couldn't  no  white  man  help  you.  But 
hit  ain't  no  law  making  you  go  up  there  and  get  shed  of 
them."  So  I  made  like  I  was  going  away.  I  went  back  around 
the  corner  of  the  kitchen  and  watched  him  set  down  on  the 
steps  again,  going  "Hic-uh!  Hic-uh!"  slow  and  quiet  again; 
and  then  I  seen,  through  the  kitchen  window,  Old  Man  Ash 
standing  just  inside  the  kitchen  door,  right  still,  with  his  head 
bent  like  he  was  listening.  But  still  I  never  suspected  nothing. 
Not  even  did  I  suspect  nothing  when,  after  a  while,  I  watched 
Luke  get  up  again,  sudden  but  quiet,  and  stand  for  a  minute 
looking  at  the  window  where  the  poker  game  and  the  folks 
was,  and  then  look  off  into  the  dark  towards  the  road  that 
went  down  the  bottom.  Then  he  went  into  the  house,  quiet, 
and  come  out  a  minute  later  with  a  lighted  lantrun  and  a 
shotgun.  I  don't  know  whose  gun  hit  was  and  I  don't  reckon 


A  Bear  Hunt  73 

he  did,  nor  cared  neither.  He  just  come  out  kind  of  quiet 
and  determined,  and  went  on  down  the  road.  I  could  see  the 
lantrun,  but  I  could  hyear  him  a  long  time  after  the  lantrun 
had  done  disappeared.  I  had  come  back  around  the  kitchen 
then  and  I  was  listening  to  him  dying  away  down  the  bot- 
tom, when  old  Ash  says  behind  me: 

"He  gwine  up  dar?" 

"Up  where?  "I  says. 

"Up  to  de  mound,"  he  says. 

"Why,  I  be  dog  if  I  know,"  I  says.  "The  last  time  I  talked 
to  him  he  never  sounded  like  he  was  fixing  to  go  nowhere. 
Maybe  he  just  decided  to  take  a  walk.  Hit  might  do  him  some 
good;  make  him  sleep  tonight  and  help  him  get  up  a  appetite 
for  breakfast  maybe.  What  do  you  think?" 

But  Ash  never  said  nothing.  He  just  went  on  back  into  the 
kitchen.  And  still  I  never  suspected  nothing.  How  could  I? 
I  hadn't  never  even  seen  Jefferson  in  them  days.  I  hadn't 
never  even  seen  a  pair  of  shoes,  let  alone  two  stores  in  a  row 
or  a  arc  light. 

So  I  went  on  in  where  the  poker  game  was,  and  I  says, 
"Well,  gentlemen,  I  reckon  we  might  get  some  sleep  to- 
night." And  I  told  them  what  had  happened,  because  more 
than  like  he  would  stay  up  there  until  daylight  rather  than 
walk  them  five  miles  back  in  the  dark,  because  maybe  them 
Indians  wouldn't  mind  a  little  thing  like  a  fellow  with  hic- 
cups, like  white  folks  would.  And  I  be  dog  if  Major  didn't 
rear  up  about  hit. 

"Dammit,  Ratliff,"  he  says,  "you  ought  not  to  done  that." 

"Why,  I  just  sujested  hit  to  him,  Major,  for  a  joke,"  I  says. 
"I  just  told  him  about  how  old  Basket  was  a  kind  of  doctor. 
I  never  expected  him  to  take  hit  serious.  Maybe  he  ain't  even 
going  up  there.  Maybe's  he's  just  went  out  after  a  coon." 

But  most  of  them  felt  about  hit  like  I  did.  "Let  him  go," 
Mr.  Fraser  says.  "I  hope  he  walks  around  all  night.  Damn  if, 


74  The  Country 

I  slept  a  wink  for  him  all  night  long.  .  .  .  Deal  the  cards. 
Uncle  Ike." 

"Can't  stop  him  now,  noways,"  Uncle  Ike  says,  dealing 
the  cards.  "And  maybe  John  Basket  can  do  something  for 
his  hiccups.  Durn  young  fool,  eating  and  drinking  himself  to 
where  he  can't  talk  nor  swallow  neither.  He  set  behind  me 
on  a  log  this  morning,  sounding  just  like  a  hay  baler.  I  thought 
once  I'd  have  to  shoot  him  to  get  rid  of  him.  .  .  .  Queen  bets 
a  quarter,  gentlemen." 

So  I  set  there  watching  them,  thinking  now  and  then  about 
that  durn  fellow  with  his  shotgun  and  his  lantrun  stumbling 
and  blundering  along  through  the  woods,  walking  five  miles 
in  the  dark  to  get  shed  of  his  hiccups,  with  the  varmints  all 
watching  him  and  wondering  just  what  kind  of  a  hunt  this 
was  and  just  what  kind  of  a  two-leg  varmint  hit  was  that 
made  a  noise  like  that,  and  about  them  Indians  up  at  the 
mound  when  he  would  come  walking  in,  and  I  would  have 
•to  laugh  until  Major  says,  "What  in  hell  are  you  mumbling 
an J  giggling  at?" 

"iNbthing,"  I  says.  "I  was  just  thinking  about  a  fellow 
I  kncow." 

"A-nd  damn  if  you  hadn't  ought  to  be  out  there  with  him," 
Majc->r  says.  Then  he  decided  hit  was  about  drink  time  and  he 
beg^m  to  holler  for  Ash.  Finally  I  went  to  the  door  and  hol~ 
lere^d  for  Ash  towards  the  kitchen,  but  hit  was  another  one 
of  i  the  niggers  that  answered.  When  he  come  in  with  the 
deniijohn  and  fixings,  Major  looks  up  and  says  "Where's 
Ash?" 

"He  done  gone,"  the  nigger  says. 
"Gone?"  Major  says.  "Gone  where?" 
"He  say  he  gwine  up  to'ds  de  mound,"  the  nigger  says. 
And  still  I  never  knowed,  never  suspected.  I  just  thought  to 
myself,  "That  old  nigger  has  turned  powerful  tender-hearted 
all  of  a  sudden,  being  skeered  for  Luke  Provine  to  walk 


A  Bear  Hunt  75 

around  by  himself  in  the  dark.  Or  maybe  Ash  likes  to  listen 
to  them  hiccups,"  I  thought  to  myself. 

"Up  to  the  mound?"  Major  says.  "By  dad,  if  he  comes 
back  here  full  of  John  Basket's  bust-skull  whisky  I'll  skin 
him  alive." 

"He  ain't  say  what  he  gwine  fer,"  the  nigger  says.  "All  he 
tell  me  when  he  left,  he  gwine  up  to'ds  de  mound  and  he  be 
back  by  daylight." 

"He  better  be,"  Major  says.  "He  better  be  sober  too." 

So  we  set  there  and  they  went  on  playing  and  me  watching 
them  like  a  durn  fool,  not  suspecting  nothing,  just  thinking 
how  hit  was  a  shame  that  that  durned  old  nigger  would  have 
to  come  in  and  spoil  Luke's  trip,  and  hit  come  along  towards 
eleven  o'clock  and  they  begun  to  talk  about  going  to  bed, 
being  as  they  was  all  going  out  on  stand  tomorrow,  when  we 
hyeard  the  sound.  Hit  sounded  like  a  drove  of  wild  horses 
coming  up  that  road,  and  we  hadn't  no  more  than  turned 
towards  the  door,  a-asking  one  another  what  in  tarnation  hit 
could  be,  with  Major  just  saying,  "What  in  the  name 

of "  when  hit  come  across  the  porch  like  a  harrycane 

and  down  the  hall,  and  the  door  busted  open  and  there  Luke 
was.  He  never  had  no  gun  and  lantrun  then,  and  his  clothes 
was  nigh  tore  clean  offen  him,  and  his  face  looked  wild  as 
ere  a  man  in  the  Jackson  a-sylum.  But  the  main  thing  1 
noticed  was  that  he  wasn't  hiccuping  now.  And  this  time, 
too,  he  was  nigh  crying. 

"They  was  fixing  to  kill  me! "  he  says.  "They  was  going  to 
burn  me  to  death!  They  had  done  tried  me  and  tied  me  onto 
the  pile  of  wood,  and  one  of  them  was  coming  with  the  fahr 
when  I  managed  to  bust  loose  and  run! " 

"Who  was?"  Major  says.  "What  in  the  tarnation  hell  are 
you  talking  about?" 

"Them  Indians!"  Luke  says.  "They  was  fixing  to " 

"What?"  Major  hollers.  "Damn  to  blue  blazes,  what?" 


j6  The  Country 

And  that  was  where  I  had  to  put  my  foot  in  hit.  He  hadn't 
never  seen  me  until  then.  "At  least  they  cured  your  hiccups," 
I  says. 

Hit  was  then  that  he  stopped  right  still.  He  hadn't  never 
even  seen  me,  but  he  seen  me  now.  He  stopped  right  still  and 
looked  at  me  with  that  ere  wild  face  that  looked  like  hit  had 
just  escaped  from  Jackson  and  had  ought  to  be  took  back 
there  quick. 

"What?  "he  says. 

"Anyway,  you  done  run  out  from  under  them  hiccups," 
I  says. 

Well,  sir,  he  stood  there  for  a  full  minute.  His  eyes  had 
done  gone  blank,  and  he  stood  there  with  his  head  cocked  a 
little,  listening  to  his  own  insides.  I  reckon  hit  was  the  first 
time  he  had  took  time  to  find  out  that  they  was  gone.  He 
stood  there  right  still  for  a  full  minute  while  that  ere  kind  of 
shocked  astonishment  come  onto  his  face.  Then  he  jumped 
on  me.  I  was  still  setting  in  my  chair,  and  I  be  dog  if  for  a 
minute  I  didn't  think  the  roof  had  done  fell  in. 

Well,  they  got  him  offen  me  at  last  and  got  him  quieted 
down,  and  then  they  washed  me  off  and  give  me  a  drink,  and 
I  felt  better.  But  even  with  that  drink  I  never  felt  so  good 
but  what  I  felt  hit  was  my  duty  to  my  honor  to  call  him 
outen  the  back  yard,  as  the  fellow  says.  No,  sir.  I  know  when 
I  done  made  a  mistake  and  guessed  wrong;  Major  de  Spain 
wasn't  the  only  man  that  caught  a  bear  on  that  hunt;  no,  sir. 
I  be  dog,  if  it  had  been  daylight,  I'd  a  hitched  up  my  Ford 
and  taken  out  of  there.  But  hit  was  midnight,  and  besides, 
that  nigger,  Ash,  was  on  my  mind  then.  I  had  just  begun  to 
suspect  that  hit  was  more  to  this  business  than  met  the  nekkid 
eye.  And  hit  wasn't  no  good  time  then  to  go  back  to  the 
kitchen  then  and  ask  him  about  hit,  because  Luke  was  using 
the  kitchen.  Major  had  give  him  a  drink,  too,  and  he  was 
back  there,  making  up  for  them  two  days  he  hadn't  et,  talk- 


A  Bear  Hunt  77 

ing  a  right  smart  about  what  he  aimed  to  do  to  such  and  such 
a  sonabitch  that  would  try  to  play  his  durn  jokes  on  him,  not 
mentioning  no  names;  but  mostly  laying  himself  in  a  new  set 
of  hiccups,  though  I  ain't  going  back  to  see. 

So  I  waited  until  daylight,  until  I  hyeard  the  niggers  stir- 
ring around  in  the  kitchen;  then  I  went  back  there.  And 
there  was  old  Ash,  looking  like  he  always  did,  oiling  Major's 
Jboots  and  setting  them  behind  the  stove  and  then  taking  up 
Major's  rifle  and  beginning  to  load  the  magazine.  He  just 
looked  once  at  my  face  when  I  come  in,  and  went  on  shoving 
ca'tridges  into  the  gun. 

"So  you  went  up  to  the  mound  last  night,"  I  says.  He 
looked  up  at  me  again,  quick,  and  then  down  again.  But  he 
never  said  nothing,  looking  like  a  durned  old  frizzle-headed 
ape.  "You  must  know  some  of  them  folks  up  there,"  I  says. 

"I  knows  some  of  um,"  he  says,  shoving  ca'tridges  into 
the  gun. 

"You  know  old  John  Basket?"  I  says. 

"I  knows  some  of  um,"  he  says,  not  looking  at  me. 

"Did  you  see  him  last  night?"  I  says.  He  never  said  noth- 
ing at  all.  So  then  I  changed  my  tone,  like  a  fellow  has  to  do 
to  get  anything  outen  a  nigger.  "Look  here,"  I  says.  "Look 
at  me."  He  looked  at  me.  "Just  what  did  you  do  up  there 
last  night?" 

"Who,  me?  "he  says. 

"Come  on,"  I  says.  "Hit's  all  over  now.  Mr.  Provine  has 
done  got  over  his  hiccups  and  we  done  both  forgot  about 
anything  that  might  have  happened  when  he  got  back  last 
night.  You  never  went  up  there  just  for  fun  last  night.  Or 
maybe  hit  was  something  you  told  them  up  there,  told  old 
man  Basket.  Was  that  hit?"  He  had  done  quit  looking  at  me, 
but  he  never  stopped  shoving  ca'tridges  into  that  gun.  He 
looked  quick  to  both  sides.  "Come  on,"  I  says.  "Do  you  want 
to  tell  me  what  happened  up  there,  or  do  you  want  me  to 


78  The  Country 

mention  to  Mr.  Provine  that  you  was  mixed  up  in  hit  some 
way?"  He  never  stopped  loading  the  rifle  and  he  never 
looked  at  me,  but  I  be  dog  if  I  couldn't  almost  see  his  mind 
working.  "Come  on,"  I  says.  "Just  what  was  you  doing  up 
there  last  night?" 

Then  he  told  me.  I  reckon  he  knowed  hit  wasn't  no  use 
to  try  to  hide  hit  then;  that  if  I  never  told  Luke,  I  could  still 
tell  Major.  "I  jest  dodged  him  and  got  dar  first  en  told  um 
he  was  a  new  revenue  agent  coming  up  dar  tonight,  but  dat 
he  warn't  much  en  dat  all  dey  had  to  do  was  to  give  um  a 
good  skeer  en  likely  he  would  go  away.  En  dey  did  en  he 
did." 

"Well!"  I  says.  "Well!  I  always  thought  I  was  pretty 
good  at  joking  folks,"  I  says,  "but  I  take  a  back  seat  for  you. 
What  happened?"  I  says.  "Did  you  see  hit?" 

"Never  much  happened,"  he  says.  "Dey  jest  went  down 
cle  road  a  piece  en  atter  a  while  hyer  he  come  a-hickin'  en 
a-blumpin'  up  de  road  wid  de  lant'un  en  de  gun.  They  took 
de  lant'un  en  de  gun  away  frum  him  en  took  him  up  pon 
topper  de  mound  en  talked  de  Injun  language  at  him  fer  a 
while.  Den  dey  piled  up  some  wood  en  fixed  him  on  hit  so 
he  could  git  loose  in  a  minute,  en  den  one  of  dem  come  up 
de  hill  wid  de  fire,  en  he  done  de  rest." 

"Well!"  I  says.  "Well,  I'll  be  eternally  durned!"  And  then 
all  on  a  sudden  hit  struck  me.  I  had  done  turned  and  was 
going  out  when  hit  struck  me,  and  I  stopped  and  I  says, 
"There's  one  more  thing  I  want  to  know.  Why  did  you  do 
hit?" 

Now  he  set  there  on  the  wood  box,  rubbing  the  gun  with 
his  hand,  not  looking  at  me  again.  "I  wuz  jest  helping  you 
kyo  him  of  dem  hiccups." 

"Come  on,"  I  says.  "That  wasn't  your  reason.  What  was 
hit?  Remember,  I  got  a  right  smart  I  can  tell  Mr.  Provine 
and  Major  both  now.  I  don't  know  what  Major  will  do,  but 
I  know  what  Mr.  Provine  will  do  if  I  was  to  tell  him." 


A  Bear  Hunt  79 

And  he  set  there,  rubbing  that  ere  rifle  with  his  hand.  He 
was  kind  of  looking  down,  like  he  was  thinking.  Not  like  he 
was  trying  to  decide  whether  to  tell  me  or  not,  but  like  he 
was  remembering  something  from  a  long  time  back.  And 
that's  exactly  what  he  was  doing,  because  he  says: 

"I  ain't  skeered  for  him  to  know.  One  time  dey  was  a 
picnic.  Hit  was  a  long  time  back,  nigh  twenty  years  ago. 
He  was  a  young  man  den,  en  in  de  middle  of  de  picnic,  him 
en  he  brother  en  nudder  white  man — I  fergit  he  name — dey 
rid  up  wid  dey  pistols  out  en  cotch  us  niggers  one  at  a  time 
en  burned  our  collars  off.  Hit  was  him  dat  burnt  mine." 

"And  you  waited  all  this  time  and  went  to  all  this  trouble, 
just  to  get  even  with  him?"  I  says. 

"Hit  warn't  dat,"  he  says,  rubbing  the  rifle  with  his  hand. 
"Hit  wuz  de  collar.  Back  in  dem  days  a  top  nigger  hand 
made  two  dollars  a  week.  I  paid  fo'  bits  fer  dat  collar.  Hit 
wuz  blue,  wid  a  red  picture  of  de  race  betwixt  de  Natchez 
en  de  Robert  E.  Lee  running  around  hit.  He  burnt  hit  up. 
I  makes  ten  dollars  a  week  now.  En  I  jest  wish  I  knowed 
where  I  could  buy  another  collar  like  dat  un  fer  half  of  hit. 
I  wish  I  did." 


Tvuo  Soldiers 


ME  AND  PETE  would  go  down  to  Old  Man  Killegrew's  and 
listen  to  his  radio.  We  would  wait  until  after  supper,  after 
dark,  and  we  would  stand  outside  Old  Man  Killegrew's  par- 
lor window,  and  we  could  hear  it  because  Old  Man  Kille- 
grew's wife  was  deaf,  and  so  he  run  the  radio  as  loud  as  it 
would  run,  and  so  me  and  Pete  could  hear  it  plain  as  Old 
Man  Killegrew's  wife  could,  I  reckon,  even  standing  outside 
with  the  window  closed. 

And  that  night  I  said,  "What?  Japanese?  What's  a  pearl 
harbor?"  and  Pete  said,  "Hush." 

And  so  we  stood  there,  it  was  cold,  listening  to  the  fellow 
in  the  radio  talking,  only  I  couldn't  make  no  heads  nor  tails 
neither  out  of  it.  Then  the  fellow  said  that  would  be  all  for 
a  while,  and  me  and  Pete  walked  back  up  the  road  to  home, 
and  Pete  told  me  what  it  was.  Because  he  was  nigh  twenty 
and  he  had  done  finished  the  Consolidated  last  June  and  he 
knowed  a  heap:  about  them  Japanese  dropping  bombs  on 
Pearl  Harbor  and  that  Pearl  Harbor  was  across  the  water. 

"Across  what  water?"  I  said.  "Across  that  Government 
reservoy  up  at  Oxford?" 

"Naw,"  Pete  said.  "Across  the  big  water.  The  Pacific 
Ocean." 

We  went  home.  Maw  and  pap  was  already  asleep,  and  me 

Ki 


82  The  Country 

and  Pete  laid  in  the  bed,  and  I  still  couldn't  understand  where 
it  was,  and  Pete  told  me  again — the  Pacific  Ocean. 

"What's  the  matter  with  you?"  Pete  said.  "You're  going 
on  nine  years  old.  You  been  in  school  now  ever  since  Sep- 
tember. Ain't  you  learned  nothing  yet?" 

"I  reckon  we  ain't  got  as  fer  as  the  Pacific  Ocean  yet," 
I  said. 

We  was  still  sowing  the  vetch  then  that  ought  to  been  all 
finished  by  the  fifteenth  of  November,  because  pap  was  still 
behind,  just  like  he  had  been  ever  since  me  and  Pete  had 
knowed  him.  And  we  had  firewood  to  git  in,  too,  but  every 
night  me  and  Pete  would  go  down  to  Old  Man  Killegrew's 
and  stand  outside  his  parlor  window  in  the  cold  and  listen  to 
his  radio;  then  we  would  come  back  home  and  lay  in  the 
bed  and  Pete  would  tell  me  what  it  was.  That  is,  he  would 
tell  me  for  a  while.  Then  he  wouldn't  tell  me.  It  was  like  he 
didn't  want  to  talk  about  it  no  more.  He  would  tell  me  to 
shut  up  because  he  wanted  to  go  to  sleep,  but  he  never 
wanted  to  go  to  sleep. 

He  would  lay  there,  a  heap  stiller  than  if  he  was  asleep, 
and  it  would  be  something,  I  could  feel  it  coming  out  of  him, 
like  he  was  mad  at  me  even,  only  I  knowed  he  wasn't  think- 
ing about  me,  or  like  he  was  worried  about  something,  and  it 
wasn't  that  neither,  because  he  never  had  nothing  to  worry 
about.  He  never  got  behind  like  pap,  let  alone  stayed  behind. 
Pap  give  him  ten  acres  when  he  graduated  from  the  Con- 
solidated, and  me  and  Pete  both  reckoned  pap  was  durn  glad 
to  get  shut  of  at  least  ten  acres,  less  to  have  to  worry  with 
himself;  and  Pete  had  them  ten  acres  all  sowed  to  vetch  and 
busted  out  and  bedded  for  the  winter,  and  so  it  wasn't  that. 
But  it  was  something.  And  still  we  would  go  down  to  Old 
Man  Killegrew's  every  night  and  listen  to  his  radio,  and  they 
was  at  it  in  the  Philippines  now,  but  General  MacArthur 
was  holding  um.  Then  we  would  come  back  home  and  lay  in 


TIVO  Soldiers  83 

the  bed,  and  Pete  wouldn't  tell  me  nothing  or  talk  at  all.  He 
would  just  lay  there  still  as  a  ambush  and  when  I  would 
touch  him,  his  side  or  his  leg  would  feel  hard  and  still  as  iron, 
until  after  a  while  I  would  go  to  sleep. 

Then  one  night — it  was  the  first  time  he  had  said  nothing 
to  me  except  to  jump  on  me  about  not  chopping  enough 
wood  at  the  wood  tree  where  we  was  cutting — he  said,  "I 
got  to  go." 

"Go  where?  "I  said. 

"To  that  war,"  Pete  said. 

"Before  we  even  finish  gettin'  in  the  firewood?" 

"Firewood,  hell,"  Pete  said. 

"All  right,"  I  said.  "When  we  going  to  start?" 

But  he  wasn't  even  listening.  He  laid  there,  hard  and  still 
as  iron  in  the  dark.  "I  got  to  go,"  he  said.  "I  jest  ain't  going 
to  put  up  with  no  folks  treating  the  Unity  States  that  way." 

"Yes,"  I  said.  "Firewood  or  no  firewood,  I  reckon  we  got 
to  go." 

This  time  he  heard  me.  He  laid  still  again,  but  it  was  a 
different  kind  of  still. 

"You?  "he  said.  "To  a  war?" 

"You'll  whup  the  big  uns  and  I'll  whup  the  little  uns," 
I  said. 

Then  he  told  me  I  couldn't  go.  At  first  I  thought  he  just 
never  wanted  me  tagging  after  him,  like  he  wouldn't  leave  me 
go  with  him  when  he  went  sparking  them  girls  of  Tull's. 
Then  he  told  me  the  Army  wouldn't  leave  me  go  because 
I  was  too  little,  and  then  I  knowed  he  really  meant  it  and 
that  I  couldn't  go  nohow  noways.  And  somehow  I  hadn't 
believed  until  then  that  he  was  going  himself,  but  now  I 
knowed  he  was  and  that  he  wasn't  going  to  leave  me  go  with 
him  a-tall. 

"I'll  chop  the  wood  and  tote  the  water  for  you-all  then!" 
I  said.  "You  got  to  have  wood  and  water!" 


84  The  Country 

Anyway,  he  was  listening  to  me  now.  He  wasn't  like  iron 
now. 

He  turned  onto  his  side  and  put  his  hand  on  my  chest 
because  it  was  me  that  was  laying  straight  and  hard  on  my 
back  now. 

"No,"  he  said.  "You  got  to  stay  here  and  help  pap." 

"Help  him  what?"  I  said.  "He  ain't  never  caught  up  no- 
how. He  can't  get  no  further  behind.  He  can  sholy  take  care 
of  this  little  shirttail  of  a  farm  while  me  and  you  are  whup- 
ping  them  Japanese.  I  got  to  go  too.  If  you  got  to  go,  then 
so  have  I." 

"No,"  Pete  said.  "Hush  now.  Hush."  And  he  meant  it, 
and  I  knowed  he  did.  Only  I  made  sho  from  his  own  mouth. 
I  quit. 

"So  I  just  can't  go  then,"  I  said. 

"No,"  Pete  said.  "You  just  can't  go.  You're  too  little,  in 
the  first  place,  and  in  the  second  place " 

"All  right,"  I  said.  "Then  shut  up  and  leave  me  go  to 
sleep." 

So  he  hushed  then  and  laid  back.  And  I  laid  there  like  I 
was  already  asleep,  and  pretty  soon  he  was  asleep  and  I 
knowed  it  was  the  wanting  to  go  to  the  war  that  had  worried 
him  and  kept  him  awake,  and  now  that  he  had  decided  to  go, 
he  wasn't  worried  any  more. 

The  next  morning  he  told  maw  and  pap.  Maw  was  all 
right.  She  cried. 

"No,"  she  said,  crying,  "I  don't  want  him  to  go.  I  would 
rather  go  myself  in  his  place,  if  I  could.  I  don't  want  to  save 
the  country.  Them  Japanese  could  take  it  and  keep  it,  so  long 
as  they  left  me  and  my  family  and  my  children  alone.  But  I 
remember  my  brother  Marsh  in  that  other  war.  He  had  to  go 
to  that  one  when  he  wasn't  but  nineteen,  and  our  mother 
couldn't  understand  it  then  any  more  than  I  can  now.  But 
she  told  Marsh  if  he  had  to  go,  he  had  to  go.  And  so,  if  Pete's 


T*wo  Soldiers  85 

got  to  go  to  this  one,  he's  got  to  go  to  it.  Jest  don't  ask  me 
to  understand  why." 

But  pap  was  the  one.  He  was  the  feller.  "To  the  war?"  he 
said.  "Why,  I  just  don't  see  a  bit  of  use  in  that.  You  ain't  old 
enough  for  the  draft,  and  the  country  ain't  being  invaded. 
Our  President  in  Washington,  D.  C,  is  watching  the  condi- 
tions and  he  will  notify  us.  Besides,  in  that  other  war  your  ma 
just  mentioned,  I  was  drafted  and  sent  clean  to  Texas  and  was 
held  there  nigh  eight  months  until  they  finally  quit  fighting. 
It  seems  to  me  that  that,  along  with  your  Uncle  Marsh  who 
received  a  actual  wound  on  the  battlefields  of  France,  is 
enough  for  me  and  mine  to  have  to  do  to  protect  the  coun- 
try, at  least  in  my  lifetime.  Besides,  what'll  I  do  for  help  on 
the  farm  with  you  gone?  It  seems  to  me  I'll  get  mighty  far 
behind." 

"You  been  behind  as  long  as  I  can  remember,"  Pete  said. 
"Anyway,  I'm  going.  I  got  to." 

"Of  course  he's  got  to  go,"  I  said.  "Them  Japanese " 

"You  hush  your  mouth!"  maw  said,  crying.  "Nobody's 
talking  to  you!  Go  and  get  me  a  armful  of  wood!  That's 
what  you  can  do!" 

So  I  got  the  wood.  And  all  the  next  day,  while  me  and 
Pete  and  pap  was  getting  in  as  much  wood  as  we  could  in 
that  time  because  Pete  said  how  pap's  idea  of  plenty  of  wood 
was  one  more  stick  laying  against  the  wall  that  maw  ain't  put 
on  the  fire  yet,  Maw  was  getting  Pete  ready  to  go.  She 
washed  and  mended  his  clothes  and  cooked  him  a  shoe  box 
of  vittles.  And  that  night  me  and  Pete  laid  in  the  bed  and 
listened  to  her  packing  his  grip  and  crying,  until  after  a 
while  Pete  got  up  in  his  nightshirt  and  went  back  there,  and 
I  could  hear  them  talking,  until  at  last  maw  said,  "You  got 
to  go,  and  so  I  want  you  to  go.  But  I  don't  understand  it, 
and  I  won't  never,  and  so  don't  expect  me  to."  And  Pete 
come  back  and  got  into  the  bed  again  and  laid  again  still  and 


86  The  Country 

hard  as  iron  on  his  back,  and  then  tie  said,  and  he  wasn't 
talking  to  me,  he  wasn't  talking  to  nobody:  "I  got  to  go. 
I  just  got  to." 

"Sho  you  got  to,"  I  said.  "Them  Japanese "  He  turned 

over  hard,  he  kind  of  surged  over  onto  his  side,  looking  at 
me  in  the  dark. 

"Anyway,  you're  all  right,"  he  said.  "I  expected  to  have 
more  trouble  with  you  than  with  all  the  rest  of  them  put 
together." 

"I  reckon  I  can't  help  it  neither,"  I  said.  "But  maybe  it  will 
run  a  few  years  longer  and  I  can  get  there.  Maybe  someday 
I  will  jest  walk  in  on  you." 

"I  hope  not,"  Pete  said.  "Folks  don't  go  to  wars  for  fun. 
A  man  don't  leave  his  maw  crying  just  for  fun." 

"Then  why  are  you  going?"  I  said. 

"I  got  to,"  he  said.  "I  just  got  to.  Now  you  go  on  to  sleep. 
I  got  to  ketch  that  early  bus  in  the  morning." 

"All  right,"  I  said.  "I  hear  tell  Memphis  is  a  big  place.  How 
will  you  find  where  the  Army's  at?" 

"I'll  ask  somebody  where  to  go  to  join  it,"  Pete  said.  "Go 
on  to  sleep  now." 

"Is  that  what  you'll  ask  for?  Where  to  join  the  Army?" 
I  said. 

"Yes,"  Pete  said.  He  turned  onto  his  back  again.  "Shut  up 
and  go  to  sleep." 

We  went  to  sleep.  The  next  morning  we  et  breakfast  by 
lamplight  because  the  bus  would  pass  at  six  o'clock.  Maw 
wasn't  crying  now.  She  jest  looked  grim  and  busy,  putting 
breakfast  on  the  table  while  we  et  it.  Then  she  finished  pack- 
ing Pete's  grip,  except  he  never  wanted  to  take  no  grip  to 
the  war,  but  maw  said  decent  folks  never  went  nowhere,  not 
even  to  a  war,  without  a  change  of  clothes  and  something  to 
tote  them  in.  She  put  in  the  shoe  box  of  fried  chicken  and 
biscuits  and  she  put  the  Bible  in,  too,  and  then  it  was  time  to 


Two  Soldiers  87 

go.  We  didn't  know  until  then  that  maw  wasn't  going  to  the 
bus.  She  jest  brought  Pete's  cap  and  overcoat,  and  still  she 
didn't  cry  no  more,  she  jest  stood  with  her  hands  on  Pete's 
shoulders  and  she  didn't  move,  but  somehow,  and  just  hold- 
ing Pete's  shoulders,  she  looked  as  hard  and  fierce  as  when 
Pete  had  turned  toward  me  in  the  bed  last  night  and  tole  me 
that  anyway  I  was  all  right. 

"They  could  take  the  country  and  keep  the  country,  so 
long  as  they  never  bothered  me  and  mine,"  she  said.  Then 
she  said,  "Don't  never  forget  who  you  are.  You  ain't  rich 
and  the  rest  of  the  world  outside  of  Frenchman's  Bend  never 
heard  of  you.  But  your  blood  is  good  as  any  blood  anywhere, 
and  don't  you  never  forget  it." 

Then  she  kissed  him,  and  then  we  was  out  of  the  house, 
with  pap  toting  Pete's  grip  whether  Pete  wanted  him  to  or 
not.  There  wasn't  no  dawn  even  yet,  not  even  after  we  had 
stood  on  the  highway  by  the  mailbox,  a  while.  Then  we  seen 
the  lights  of  the  bus  coming  and  I  was  watching  the  bus  until 
it  come  up  and  Pete  flagged  it,  and  then,  sho  enough,  there 
was  daylight — it  had  started  while  I  wasn't  watching.  And 
now  me  and  Pete  expected  pap  to  say  something  else  foolish, 
like  he  done  before,  about  how  Uncle  Marsh  getting 
wounded  in  France  and  that  trip  to  Texas  pap  taken  in  1918 
ought  to  be  enough  to  save  the  Unity  States  in  1942,  but  he 
never.  He  done  all  right  too.  He  jest  said,  "Good-by,  son. 
Always  remember  what  your  ma  told  you  and  write  her 
whenever  you  find  the  time."  Then  he  shaken  Pete's  hand, 
and  Pete  looked  at  me  a  minute  and  put  his  hand  on  my  head 
and  rubbed  my  head  durn  nigh  hard  enough  to  wring  my 
neck  off  and  jumped  into  the  bus,  and  the  feller  wound  the 
door  shut  and  the  bus  began  to  hum;  then  it  was  moving, 
humming  and  grinding  and  whining  louder  and  louder;  it 
was  going  fast,  with  two  little  red  lights  behind  it  that  never 
seemed  to  get  no  littler,  but  just  seemed  to  be  running  to- 


88  The  Country 

gether  until  pretty  soon  they  would  touch  and  jest  be  one 
light.  But  they  never  did,  and  then  the  bus  was  gone,  and 
even  like  it  was,  I  could  have  pretty  nigh  busted  out  crying, 
nigh  to  nine  years  old  and  all. 

Me  and  pap  went  back  to  the  house.  All  that  day  we 
worked  at  the  wood  tree,  and  so  I  never  had  no  good  chance 
until  about  middle  of  the  afternoon.  Then  I  taken  my  sling- 
shot and  I  would  have  liked  to  took  all  my  bird  eggs,  too, 
because  Pete  had  give  me  his  collection  and  he  holp  me  with 
mine,  and  he  would  like  to  git  the  box  out  and  look  at  them 
as  good  as  I  would,  even  if  he  was  nigh  twenty  years  old. 
But  the  box  was  too  big  to  tote  a  long  ways  and  have  to 
worry  with,  so  I  just  taken  the  shikepoke  egg,  because  it  was 
the  best  un,  and  wropped  it  up  good  into  a  matchbox  and  hid 
it  and  the  slingshot  under  the  corner  of  the  barn.  Then  we  et 
supper  and  went  to  bed,  and  I  thought  then  how  if  I  would 
'a'  had  to  stayed  in  that  room  and  that  bed  like  that  even  for 
one  more  night,  I  jest  couldn't  'a'  stood  it.  Then  I  could  hear 
pap  snoring,  but  I  never  heard  no  sound  from  maw,  whether 
she  was  asleep  or  not,  and  I  don't  reckon  she  was.  So  I  taken 
my  shoes  and  drapped  them  out  the  window,  and  then  I 
clumb  out  like  I  used  to  watch  Pete  do  when  he  was  still  jest 
seventeen  and  pap  held  that  he  was  too  young  yet  to  be  tom- 
catting  around  at  night,  and  wouldn't  leave  him  out,  and  I 
put  on  my  shoes  and  went  to  the  barn  and  got  the  slingshot 
and  the  shikepoke  egg  and  went  to  the  highway. 

It  wasn't  cold,  it  was  jest  durn  confounded  dark,  and  that 
highway  stretched  on  in  front  of  me  like,  without  nobody 
using  it,  it  had  stretched  out  half  again  as  fer  just  like  a  man 
does  when  he  lays  down,  so  that  for  a  time  it  looked  like  full 
sun  was  going  to  ketch  me  before  I  had  finished  them  twenty- 
two  miles  to  Jefferson.  But  it  didn't.  Daybreak  was  jest  start- 
ing when  I  walked  up  the  hill  into  town.  I  could  smell  break- 
fast cooking  in  the  cabins  and  I  wished  I  had  thought  to 


Tivo  Soldiers  89 

brought  me  a  cold  biscuit,  but  that  was  too  late  now.  And 
Pete  had  told  me  Memphis  was  a  piece  beyond  Jefferson,  but 
I  never  knowed  it  was  no  eighty  miles.  So  I  stood  there  on 
that  empty  square,  with  daylight  coming  and  coming  and 
the  street  lights  still  burning  and  that  Law  looking  down  at 
me,  and  me  still  eighty  miles  from  Memphis,  and  it  had  took 
me  all  night  to  walk  jest  twenty-two  miles,  and  so,  by  the 
time  I  got  to  Memphis  at  that  rate,  Pete  would  'a7  done 
already  started  for  Pearl  Harbor. 

"Where  do  you  come  from?"  the  Law  said. 

And  I  told  him  again.  "I  got  to  get  to  Memphis.  My 
brother's  there." 

"You  mean  you  ain't  got  any  folks  around  here?"  the  Law 
said.  "Nobody  but  that  brother?  What  are  you  doing  way 
off  down  here  and  your  brother  in  Memphis?" 

And  I  told  him  again,  "I  got  to  get  to  Memphis.  I  ain't  got 
no  time  to  waste  talking  about  it  and  I  ain't  got  time  to  walk 
it.  I  got  to  git  there  today." 

"Come  on  here,"  the  Law  said. 

We  went  down  another  street.  And  there  was  the  bus, 
just  like  when  Pete  got  into  it  yestiddy  morning,  except  there 
wasn't  no  lights  on  it  now  and  it  was  empty.  There  was  a 
regular  bus  dee-po  like  a  railroad  dee-po,  with  a  ticket 
counter  and  a  feller  behind  it,  and  the  Law  said,  "Set  down 
over  there,"  and  I  set  down  on  the  bench,  and  the  Law  said, 
"I  want  to  use  your  telephone,"  and  he  talked  in  the  tele- 
phone a  minute  and  put  it  down  and  said  to  the  feller  behind 
the  ticket  counter,  "Keep  your  eye  on  him.  I'll  be  back  as 
soon  as  Mrs.  Habersham  can  arrange  to  get  herself  up  and 
dressed."  He  went  out.  I  got  up  and  went  to  the  ticket 
counter. 

"I  want  to  go  to  Memphis,"  I  said. 

"You  bet,"  the  feller  said.  "You  set  down  on  the  bench 
now.  Mr.  Foote  will  be  back  in  a  minute." 


90  The  Country 

"I  don't  know  no  Mr.  Foote,"  I  said.  "I  want  to  ride  that 
bus  to  Memphis." 

"You  got  some  money?"  he  said.  "It'll  cost  you  seventy- 
two  cents." 

I  taken  out  the  matchbox  and  unwropped  the  shikepoke 
egg.  "I'll  swap  you  this  for  a  ticket  to  Memphis,"  I  said. 

"What's  that?  "he  said. 

"It's  a  shikepoke  egg,"  I  said.  "You  never  seen  one  before. 
It's  worth  a  dollar.  I'll  take  seventy-two  cents  fer  it." 

"No,"  he  said,  "the  fellers  that  own  that  bus  insist  on  a 
cash  basis.  If  I  started  swapping  tickets  for  bird  eggs  and 
livestock  and  such,  they  would  fire  me.  You  go  and  set  down 
on  the  bench  now,  like  Mr.  Foote " 

I  started  for  the  door,  but  he  caught  me,  he  put  one  hand 
on  the  ticket  counter  and  jumped  over  it  and  caught  up  with 
me  and  reached  his  hand  out  to  ketch  my  shirt.  I  whupped 
out  my  pocketknife  and  snapped  it  open. 

"You  put  a  hand  on  me  and  I'll  cut  it  off,"  I  said. 

I  tried  to  dodge  him  and  run  at  the  door,  but  he  could 
move  quicker  than  any  grown  man  I  ever  see,  quick  as 
Pete  almost.  He  cut  me  off  and  stood  with  his  back  against 
the  door  and  one  foot  raised  a  little,  and  there  wasn't  no 
other  way  to  get  out.  "Get  back  on  that  bench  and  stay 
there,"  he  said. 

And  there  wasn't  no  other  way  out.  And  he  stood  there 
with  his  back  against  the  door.  So  I  went  back  to  the  bench. 
And  then  it  seemed  like  to  me  that  dee-po  was  full  of  folks. 
There  was  that  Law  again,  and  there  was  two  ladies  in  fur 
coats  and  their  faces  already  painted.  But  they  still  looked 
like  they  had  got  up  in  a  hurry  and  they  still  never  liked  it, 
a  old  one  and  a  young  one,  looking  down  at  me. 

"He  hasn't  got  a  overcoat!"  the  old  one  said.  "How  in 
the  world  did  he  ever  get  down  here  by  himself?" 

"I  ask  you,"  the  Law  said.  "I  couldn't  get  nothing  out  of 


TIVO  Soldiers  91 

him  except  his  brother  is  in  Memphis  and  he  wants  to  get 
back  up  there." 

"That's  right,"  I  said.  "I  got  to  git  to  Memphis  today." 

"Of  course  you  must,"  the  old  one  said.  "Are  you  sure 
you  can  find  your  brother  when  you  get  to  Memphis?" 

"I  reckon  I  can,"  I  said.  "I  ain't  got  but  one  and  I  have 
knowed  him  all  my  life.  I  reckon  I  will  know  him  again  when 
I  see  him." 

The  old  one  looked  at  me.  "Somehow  he  doesn't  look  like 
he  lives  in  Memphis,"  she  said. 

"He  probably  don't,"  the  Law  said.  "You  can't  tell 
though.  He  might  live  anywhere,  overhalls  or  not.  This  day 

and  time  they  get  scattered  overnight  from  he hope  to 

breakfast;  boys  and  girls,  too,  almost  before  they  can  walk 
good.  He  might  have  been  in  Missouri  or  Texas  either  yes- 
tiddy,  for  all  we  know.  But  he  don't  seem  to  have  any  doubt 
his  brother  is  in  Memphis.  All  I  know  to  do  is  send  him  up 
there  and  leave  him  look." 

"Yes,"  the  old  one  said. 

The  young  one  set  down  on  the  bench  by  me  and  opened 
a  hand  satchel  and  taken  out  a  artermatic  writing  pen  and 
some  papers. 

"Now,  honey,"  the  old  one  said,  "we're  going  to  see  that 
you  find  your  brother,  but  we  must  have  a  case  history  for 
our  files  first.  We  want  to  know  your  name  and  your  broth- 
er's name  and  where  you  were  born  and  when  your  parents 
died." 

"I  don't  need  no  case  history  neither,"  I  said.  "All  I  want 
is  to  get  to  Memphis.  I  got  to  get  there  today." 

"You  see?"  the  Law  said.  He  said  it  almost  like  he  enjoyed 
it.  "That's  what  I  told  you." 

"You're  lucky,  at  that,  Mrs.  Habersham,"  the  bus  feller 
said.  "I  don't  think  he's  got  a  gun  on  him,  but  he  can  open 
that  knife  da 1  mean,  fast  enough  to  suit  any  man." 


92  The  Country 

But  the  old  one  just  stood  there  looking  at  me. 

"Well,"  she  said.  "Well.  I  really  don't  know  what  to  do." 

"I  do,"  the  bus  feller  said.  "I'm  going  to  give  him  a  ticket 
out  of  my  own  pocket,  as  a  measure  of  protecting  the  com- 
pany against  riot  and  bloodshed.  And  when  Mr.  Foote  tells 
the  city  board  about  it,  it  will  be  a  civic  matter  and  they  will 
not  only  reimburse  me,  they  will  give  me  a  medal  too.  Hey, 
Mr.  Foote?" 

But  never  nobody  paid  him  no  mind.  The  old  one  still 
stood  looking  down  at  me.  She  said  "Well,"  again.  Then  she 
taken  a  dollar  from  her  purse  and  give  it  to  the  bus  feller. 
"I  suppose  he  will  travel  on  a  child's  ticket,  won't  he?" 

"Wellum,"  the  bus  feller  said,  "I  just  don't  know  what 
the  regulations  would  be.  Likely  I  will  be  fired  for  not  crat- 
ing him  and  marking  the  crate  Poison.  But  I'll  risk  it." 

Then  they  were  gone.  Then  the  Law  come  back  with  a 
sandwich  and  give  it  to  me. 

"You're  sure  you  can  find  that  brother?"  he  said. 

"I  ain't  yet  convinced  why  not,"  I  said.  "If  I  don't  see  Pete 
first,  he'll  see  me.  He  knows  me  too." 

Then  the  Law  went  out  for  good,  too,  and  I  et  the  sand- 
wich. Then  more  folks  come  in  and  bought  tickets,  and  then 
the  bus  feller  said  it  was  time  to  go,  and  I  got  into  the  bus 
just  like  Pete  done,  and  we  was  gone. 

I  seen  all  the  towns.  I  seen  all  of  them.  When  the  bus  got  to 
going  good,  I  found  out  I  was  jest  about  wore  out  for  sleep. 
But  there  was  too  much  I  hadn't  never  saw  before.  We  run 
out  of  Jefferson  and  run  past  fields  and  woods,  then  we 
would  run  into  another  town  and  out  of  that  un  and  past 
fields  and  woods  again,  and  then  into  another  town  with 
stores  and  gins  and  water  tanks,  and  we  run  along  by  the 
railroad  for  a  spell  and  I  seen  the  signal  arm  move,  and  then 
I  seen  the  train  and  then  some  more  towns,  and  I  was  jest 
about  plumb  wore  out  for  sleep,  but  I  couldn't  resk  it.  Then 


Two  Soldiers  93 

Memphis  begun.  It  seemed  like,  to  me,  it  went  on  for  miles. 
We  would  pass  a  patch  of  stores  and  I  would  think  that  was 
sholy  it  and  the  bus  would  even  stop.  But  it  wouldn't  be 
Memphis  yet  and  we  would  go  on  again  past  water  tanks  and 
smokestacks  on  top  of  the  mills,  and  if  they  was  gins  and 
sawmills,  I  never  knowed  there  was  that  many  and  I  never 
seen  any  that  big,  and  where  they  got  enough  cotton  and 
logs  to  run  um  I  don't  know. 

Then  I  see  Memphis.  I  knowed  I  was  right  this  time.  It 
was  standing  up  into  the  air.  It  looked  like  about  a  dozen 
whole  towns  bigger  than  Jefferson  was  set  up  on  one  edge 
in  a  field,  standing  up  into  the  air  higher  than  ara  hill  in  all 
Yoknapatawpha  County.  Then  we  was  in  it,  with  the  bus 
stopping  ever'  few  feet,  it  seemed  like  to  me,  and  cars  rushing 
past  on  both  sides  of  it  and  the  street  crowded  with  folks 
from  ever'where  in  town  that  day,  until  I  didn't  see  how 
there  could  'a'  been  nobody  left  in  Mis'sippi  a-tall  to  even 
sell  me  a  bus  ticket,  let  alone  write  out  no  case  histories. 
Then  the  bus  stopped.  It  was  another  bus  dee-po,  a  heap 
bigger  than  the  one  in  Jefferson.  And  I  said,  "All  right. 
Where  do  folks  join  the  Army?" 

"What?"  the  bus  feller  said. 

And  I  said  it  again,  "Where  do  folks  join  the  Army?" 

"Oh,"  he  said.  Then  he  told  me  how  to  get  there.  I  was 
afraid  at  first  I  wouldn't  ketch  on  how  to  do  in  a  town  big 
as  Memphis.  But  I  caught  on  all  right.  I  never  had  to  ask  but 
twice  more.  Then  I  was  there,  and  I  was  durn  glad  to  git  out 
of  all  them  rushing  cars  and  shoving  folks  and  all  that  racket 
for  a  spell,  and  I  thought,  It  won't  be  long  now,  and  I  thought 
how  if  there  was  any  kind  of  a  crowd  there  that  had  done 
already  joined  the  Army,  too,  Pete  would  likely  see  me 
before  I  seen  him.  And  so  I  walked  into  the  room.  And  Pete 
wasn't  there. 

He  wasn't  even  there.  There  was  a  soldier  with  a  big  arrer- 


94  The  Country 

head  on  his  sleeve,  writing,  and  two  fellers  standing  in  front 
of  him,  and  there  was  some  more  folks  there,  I  reckon.  It 
seems  to  me  I  remember  some  more  folks  there. 

I  went  to  the  table  where  the  soldier  was  writing,  and  I 
said,  "Where's  Pete?"  and  he  looked  up  and  I  said,  "My 
brother.  Pete  Grier.  Where  is  he?" 

"What?"  the  soldier  said.  "Who?" 

And  I  told  him  again.  "He  joined  the  Army  yestiddy. 
He's  going  to  Pearl  Harbor.  So  am  I.  I  want  to  ketch  him. 
Where  you  all  got  him? "  Now  they  were  all  looking  at  me, 
but  I  never  paid  them  no  mind.  "Come  on,"  I  said.  "Where 
is  he?" 

The  soldier  had  quit  writing.  He  had  both  hands  spraddled 
out  on  the  table.  "Oh,"  he  said.  "You're  going,  too,  hah?" 

"Yes,"  I  said.  "They  got  to  have  wood  and  water.  I  can 
chop  it  and  tote  it.  Come  on.  Where's  Pete?" 

The  soldier  stood  up.  "Who  let  you  in  here?"  he  said.  "Go 
on.  Beat  it." 

"Durn  that,"  I  said.  "You  tell  me  where  Pete " 

I  be  dog  if  he  couldn't  move  faster  than  the  bus  feller 
even.  He  never  come  over  the  table,  he  come  around  it,  he 
was  on  me  almost  before  I  knowed  it,  so  that  I  jest  had  time 
to  jump  back  and  whup  out  my  pocket-knife  and  snap  it 
open  and  hit  one  lick,  and  he  hollered  and  jumped  back  and 
grabbed  one  hand  with  the  other  and  stood  there  cussing 
and  hollering. 

One  of  the  other  fellers  grabbed  me  from  behind,  and  I 
hit  at  him  with  the  knife,  but  I  couldn't  reach  him. 

Then  both  of  the  fellers  had  me  from  behind,  and  then 
another  soldier  come  out  of  a  door  at  the  back.  He  had  on  a 
belt  with  a  britching  strop  over  one  shoulder. 

"What  the  hell  is  this?"  he  said. 

"That  little  son  cut  me  with  a  knife!"  the  first  sol 
dier  hollered.  When  he  said  that  I  tried  to  get  at  him  again. 


Two  Soldiers  95 

but  both  them  fellers  was  holding  me,  two  against  one,  and 
the  soldier  with  the  backing  strop  said,  "Here,  here.  Put  your 
knife  up,  feller.  None  of  us  are  armed.  A  man  don't  knife- 
fight  folks  that  are  barehanded."  I  could  begin  to  hear  him 
then.  He  sounded  jest  like  Pete  talked  to  me.  "Let  him  go," 
he  said.  They  let  me  go.  "Now  what's  all  the  trouble  about?" 
And  I  told  him.  "I  see,"  he  said.  "And  you  come  up  to  see 
if  he  was  all  right  before  he  left."  • 

"No,"  I  said.  "I  came  to " 

But  he  had  already  turned  to  where  the  first  soldier  was 
wropping  a  handkerchief  around  his  hand. 

"Have  you  got  him?"  he  said.  The  first  soldier  went  back 
to  the  table  and  looked  at  some  papers. 

"Here  he  is,"  he  said.  "He  enlisted  yestiddy.  He's  in  a 
detachment  leaving  this  morning  for  Little  Rock."  He  had  a 
watch  stropped  on  his  arm.  He  looked  at  it.  "The  train  leaves 
in  about  fifty  minutes.  If  I  know  country  boys,  they're  prob- 
ably all  down  there  at  the  station  right  now." 

"Get  him  up  here,"  the  one  with  the  backing  strop  said. 
"Phone  the  station.  Tell  the  porter  to  get  him  a  cab.  And  you 
come  with  me,"  he  said. 

It  was  another  office  behind  that  un,  with  jest  a  table  and 
some  chairs.  We  set  there  while  the  soldier  smoked,  and  it 
wasn't  long;  I  knowed  Pete's  feet  soon  as  I  heard  them.  Then 
the  first  soldier  opened  the  door  and  Pete  come  in.  He  never 
had  no  soldier  clothes  on.  He  looked  jest  like  he  did  when 
he  got  on  the  bus  yestiddy  morning,  except  it  seemed  to  me 
like  it  was  at  least  a  week,  so  much  had  happened,  and  I  had 
done  had  to  do  so  much  traveling.  He  come  in  and  there  he 
was,  looking  at  me  like  he  hadn't  never  left  home,  except  that 
here  we  was  in  Memphis,  on  the  way  to  Pearl  Harbor. 

"What  in  durnation  are  you  doing  here?"  he  said. 

And  I  told  him,  "You  got  to  have  wood  and  water  to 
cook  with.  I  can  chop  it  and  tote  it  for  you-all." 


96  The  Country 

"No,"  Pete  said.  "You're  going  back  home." 

"No,  Pete,"  I  said.  "I  got  to  go  too.  I  got  to.  It  hurts  my 
heart,  Pete." 

"No,"  Pete  said.  He  looked  at  the  soldier.  "I  jest  don't 
know  what  could  have  happened  to  him,  lootenant,"  he  said. 
"He  never  drawed  a  knife  on  anybody  before  in  his  life." 
He  looked  at  me.  "What  did  you  do  it  for? " 

"I  don't  know,"  I  said.  "I  jest  had  to.  I  jest  had  to  git  here* 
I  jest  had  to  find  you." 

"Well,  don't  you  never  do  it  again,  you  hear?"  Pete  said. 
"You  put  that  knife  in  your  pocket  and  you  keep  it  there. 
If  I  ever  again  hear  of  you  drawing  it  on  anybody,  I'm  com- 
ing back  from  wherever  I  am  at  and  whup  the  fire  out  of 
you.  You  hear  me?" 

"I  would  pure  cut  a  throat  if  it  would  bring  you  back  to 
stay,"  I  said.  "Pete,"  I  said.  "Pete." 

"No,"  Pete  said.  Now  his  voice  wasn't  hard  and  quick  no 
more,  it  was  almost  quiet,  and  I  knowed  now  I  wouldn't 
never  change  him.  "You  must  go  home.  You  must  look  after 
maw,  and  I  am  depending  on  you  to  look  after  my  ten  acres. 
I  want  you  to  go  back  home.  Today.  Do  you  hear?" 

"I  hear,"  I  said. 

"Can  he  get  back  home  by  himself?"  the  soldier  said. 

"He  come  up  here  by  himself,"  Pete  said. 

"I  can  get  back,  I  reckon,"  I  said.  "I  don't  live  in  but  one 
place.  I  don't  reckon  it's  moved." 

Pete  taken  a  dollar  out  of  his  pocket  and  give  it  to  me. 
"That'll  buy  your  bus  ticket  right  to  our  mailbox,"  he  said. 
"I  want  you  to  mind  the  lootenant.  He'll  send  you  to  the 
bus.  And  you  go  back  home  and  you  take  care  of  maw  and 
look  after  my  ten  acres  and  keep  that  durn  knife  in  your 
pocket.  You  hear  me?" 

"Yes,  Pete,"  I  said. 

"All  right,"  Pete  said.  "Now  I  got  to  go."  He  put  his  hand 


Two  Soldiers  97 

on  my  head  again.  But  this  time  he  never  wrung  my  neck. 
He  just  laid  his  hand  on  my  head  a  minute.  And  then  I  be 
dog  if  he  didn't  lean  down  and  kiss  me,  and  I  heard  his  feet 
and  then  the  door,  and  I  never  looked  up  and  that  was  all, 
me  setting  there,  rubbing  the  place  where  Pete  kissed  me 
and  the  soldier  throwed  back  in  his  chair,  looking  out  the 
window  and  coughing.  He  reached  into  his  pocket  and 
handed  something  to  me  without  looking  around.  It  was  a 
piece  of  chewing  gum. 

"Much  obliged,"  I  said.  "Well,  I  reckon  I  might  as  well 
start  back.  I  got  a  right  fer  piece  to  go." 

"Wait,"  the  soldier  said.  Then  he  telephoned  again  and  I 
said  again  I  better  start  back,  and  he  said  again,  "Wait.  Re- 
member what  Pete  told  you." 

So  we  waited,  and  then  another  lady  come  in,  old,  too,  in 
a  fur  coat,  too,  but  she  smelled  all  right,  she  never  had  no 
artermatic  writing  pen  nor  no  case  history  neither.  She  come 
in  and  the  soldier  got  up,  and  she  looked  around  quick  until 
she  saw  me,  and  come  and  put  her  hand  on  my  shoulder  light 
and  quick  and  easy  as  maw  herself  might  'a'  done  it. 

"Come  on,"  she  said.  "Let's  go  home  to  dinner." 

"Nome,"  I  said.  "I  got  to  ketch  the  bus  to  Jefferson." 

"I  know.  There's  plenty  of  time.  We'll  go  home  and  eat 
dinner  first." 

She  had  a  car.  And  now  we  was  right  down  in  the  middle 
of  all  them  other  cars.  We  was  almost  under  the  busses,  and 
all  them  crowds  of  people  on  the  street  close  enough  to 
where  I  could  have  talked  to  them  if  I  had  knowed  who 
they  was.  After  a  while  she  stopped  the  car.  "Here  we  are," 
she  said,  and  I  looked  at  it,  and  if  all  that  was  her  house,  she 
sho  had  a  big  family.  But  all  of  it  wasn't.  We  crossed  a  hall 
with  trees  growing  in  it  and  went  into  a  little  room  without 
nothing  in  it  but  a  nigger  dressed  up  in  a  uniform  a  heap 
shinier  than  them  soldiers  had,  and  the  nigger  shut  the  door, 


98  The  Country 

and  then  I  hollered,  "Look  out!"  and  grabbed,  but  it  was  all 
right;  that  whole  little  room  jest  went  right  on  up  and 
stopped  and  the  door  opened  and  we  was  in  another  hall, 
and  the  lady  unlocked  a  door  and  we  went  in,  and  there  was 
another  soldier,  a  old  feller,  with  a  britching  strop,  too,  and 
a  silver-colored  bird  on  each  shoulder. 

"Here  we  are,"  the  lady  said.  "This  is  Colonel  McKellogg. 
Now,  what  would  you  like  for  dinner? " 

"I  reckon  I'll  jest  have  some  ham  and  eggs  and  coffee," 
I  said. 

She  had  done  started  to  pick  up  the  telephone.  She  stopped, 
"Coffee?"  she  said.  "When  did  you  start  drinking  coffee?" 

"I  don't  know,"  I  said.  "I  reckon  it  was  before  I  could 
remember." 

"You're  about  eight,  aren't  you?"  she  said. 

"Nome,"  I  said.  "I'm  eight  and  ten  months.  Going  on 
eleven  months." 

She  telephoned  then.  Then  we  set  there  and  I  told  them 
how  Pete  had  jest  left  that  morning  for  Pearl  Harbor  and  I 
had  aimed  to  go  with  him,  but  I  would  have  to  go  back 
home  to  take  care  of  maw  and  look  after  Pete's  ten  acres, 
and  she  said  how  they  had  a  little  boy  about  my  size,  too,  in 
a  school  in  the  East.  Then  a  nigger,  another  one,  in  a  short 
kind  of  shirttail  coat,  rolled  a  kind  of  wheelbarrer  in.  It  had 
my  ham  and  eggs  and  a  glass  of  milk  and  a  piece  of  pie,  too, 
and  I  thought  I  was  hungry.  But  when  I  taken  the  first  bite 
I  found  out  I  couldn't  swallow  it,  and  I  got  up  quick. 

"I  got  to  go,"  I  said. 

"Wait,"  she  said. 

"I  got  to  go,"  I  said. 

"Just  a  minute,"  she  said.  "I've  already  telephoned  for  the 
car.  It  won't  be  but  a  minute  now.  Can't  you  drink  the  milk 
even?  Or  maybe  some  of  your  coffee?" 


Two  Soldiers  99 

"Nome,"  I  said.  "I  ain't  hungry.  Til  eat  when  I  git  home." 
Then  the  telephone  rung.  She  never  even  answered  it. 

"There,"  she  said.  "There's  the  car."  And  we  went  back 
down  in  that  'ere  little  moving  room  with  the  dressed-up 
nigger.  This  time  it  was  a  big  car  with  a  soldier  driving  it. 
I  got  into  the  front  with  him.  She  give  the  soldier  a  dollar. 
"He  might  get  hungry,"  she  said.  "Try  to  find  a  decent 
place  for  him." 

"O.K.,  Mrs.  McKellogg,"  the  soldier  said. 

Then  we  was  gone  again.  And  now  I  could  see  Memphis 
good,  bright  in  the  sunshine,  while  we  was  swinging  around 
it.  And  first  thing  I  knowed,  we  was  back  on  the  same  high- 
way the  bus  run  on  this  morning — the  patches  of  stores  and 
them  big  gins  and  sawmills,  and  Memphis  running  on  for 
miles,  it  seemed  like  to  me,  before  it  begun  to  give  out.  Then 
we  was  running  again  between  the  fields  and  woods,  run- 
ning fast  now,  and  except  for  that  soldier,  it  was  like  I 
hadn't  never  been  to  Memphis  a-tall.  We  was  going  fast  now. 
At  this  rate,  before  I  knowed  it  we  would  be  home  again,  and 
I  thought  about  me  riding  up  to  Frenchman's  Bend  in  this 
big  car  with  a  soldier  running  it,  and  all  of  a  sudden  I  begun 
to  cry.  I  never  knowed  I  was  fixing  to,  and  I  couldn't  stop 
it.  I  set  there  by  that  soldier,  crying.  We  was  going  fast. 


Shall  Not  Perish 


WHEN  THE  MESSAGE  came  about  Pete,  Father  and  I  had 
already  gone  to  the  field.  Mother  got  it  out  of  the  mailbox 
after  we  left  and  brought  it  down  to  the  fence,  and  she 
already  knew  beforehand  what  it  was  because  she  didn't 
even  have  on  her  sunbonnet,  so  she  must  have  been  watching 
from  the  kitchen  window  when  the  carrier  drove  up.  And 
I  already  knew  what  was  in  it  too.  Because  she  didn't  speak. 
She  just  stood  at  the  fence  with  the  little  pale  envelope  that 
didn't  even  need  a  stamp  on  it  in  her  hand,  and  it  was  me 
that  hollered  at  Father,  from  further  away  across  the  field 
than  he  was,  so  that  he  reached  the  fence  first  where  Mother 
waited  even  though  I  was  already  running.  "I  know  what 
it  is,"  Mother  said.  "But  can't  open  it.  Open  it." 

"No  it  ain't!"  I  hollered,  running.  "No  it  ain't!"  Then  I 
was  hollering,  "No,  Pete!  No,  Pete!"  Then  I  was  hollering, 
"God  damn  them  Japs!  God  damn  them  Japs!"  and  then  I 
was  the  one  Father  had  to  grab  and  hold,  trying  to  hold  me, 
having  to  wrastle  with  me  like  I  was  another  man  instead  of 
just  nine. 

And  that  was  all.  One  day  there  was  Pearl  Harbor.  And 
the  next  week  Pete  went  to  Memphis,  to  join  the  army  and 
go  there  and  help  them;  and  one  morning  Mother  stood  at  the 
field  fence  with  ^  little  scrap  of  paper  not  even  big  enough  to 
start  a  fire  with,  that  didn't  even  need  a  stamp  on  the  enve- 

10! 


io2  The  Country 

lope,  saying,  A  ship  'was.  NOIV  it  is  not.  Your  son  'was  one  of 
them.  And  we  allowed  ourselves  one  day  to  grieve,  and  that 
was  all.  Because  it  was  April,  the  hardest  middle  push  of 
planting  time,  and  there  was  the  land,  the  seventy  acres  which 
were  our  bread  and  fire  and  keep,  which  had  outlasted  the 
Griers  before  us  because  they  had  done  right  by  it,  and  had 
outlasted  Pete  because  while  he  was  here  he  had  done  his  part 
to  help  and  would  outlast  Mother  and  Father  and  me  if  we 
did  ours. 

Then  it  happened  again.  Maybe  we  had  forgotten  that  it 
could  and  was  going  to,  again  and  again,  to  people  who  loved 
sons  and  brothers  as  we  loved  Pete,  until  the  day  finally  came 
when  there  would  be  an  end  to  it.  After  that  day  when  we 
saw  Pete's  name  and  picture  in  the  Memphis  paper,  Father 
would  bring  one  home  with  him  each  time  he  went  to  town. 
And  we  would  see  the  pictures  and  names  of  soldiers  and 
sailors  from  other  counties  and  towns  in  Mississippi  and  Ar- 
kansas and  Tennessee,  but  there  wasn't  another  from  ours, 
and  so  after  a  while  it  did  look  like  Pete  was  going  to  be  all. 

Then  it  happened  again.  It  was  late  July,  a  Friday.  Father 
had  gone  to  town  early  on  Homer  Bookwright's  cattletruck 
and  now  it  was  sundown.  I  had  just  come  up  from  the  field 
with  the  light  sweep  and  I  had  just  finished  stalling  the  mule 
and  come  out  of  the  barn  when  Homer's  truck  stopped  at  the 
mailbox  and  Father  got  down  and  came  up  the  lane,  with  a 
sack  of  flour  balanced  on  his  shoulder  and  a  package  under 
his  arm  and  the  folded  newspaper  in  his  hand.  And  I  took  one 
look  at  the  folded  paper  and  then  no  more.  Because  I  knew  it 
too,  even  if  he  always  did  have  one  when  he  came  back  from 
town.  Because  it  was  bound  to  happen  sooner  or  later;  it 
would  not  be  just  us  out  of  all  Yoknapatawpha  County  who 
had  loved  enough  to  have  sole  right  to  grief.  So  I  just  met 
him  and  took  part  of  the  load  and  turned  beside  him,  and  we 
entered  the  kitchen  together  where  our  cold  supper  waited 


Shall  Not  Perish  103 

on  the  table  and  Mother  sat  in  the  last  of  sunset  in  the  open 
door,  her  hand  and  arm  strong  and  steady  on  the  dasher  of 
the  churn. 

When  the  message  came  about  Pete,  Father  never  touched 
her.  He  didn't  touch  her  now.  He  just  lowered  the  flour  onto 
the  table  and  went  to  the  chair  and  held  out  the  folded  paper. 
"It's  Major  de  Spain's  boy,"  he  said.  "In  town.  The  av-aytor. 
That  was  home  last  fall  in  his  officer  uniform.  He  run  his 
airplane  into  a  Japanese  battleship  and  blowed  it  up.  So  they 
knowed  where  he  was  at."  And  Mother  didn't  stop  the  churn 
for  a  minute  either,  because  even  I  could  tell  that  the  butter 
had  almost  come.  Then  she  got  up  and  went  to  the  sink  and 
washed  her  hands  and  came  back  and  sat  down  again. 

"Read  it,"  she  said. 

So  Father  and  I  found  out  that  Mother  not  only  knew  all 
the  time  it  was  going  to  happen  again,  but  that  she  already 
knew  what  she  was  going  to  do  when  it  did,  not  only  this 
time  but  the  next  one  too,  and  the  one  after  that  and  the  one 
after  that,  until  the  day  finally  came  when  all  the  grieving 
about  the  earth,  the  rich  and  the  poor  too,  whether  they  lived 
with  ten  nigger  servants  in  the  fine  big  painted  houses  in 
town  or  whether  they  lived  on  and  by  seventy  acres  of  not 
extra  good  land  like  us  or  whether  all  they  owned  was  the 
right  to  sweat  today  for  what  they  would  eat  tonight,  could 
say,  At  least  this  there  'was  some  point  to  'why  *we  grieved. 

We  fed  and  milked  and  came  back  and  ate  the  cold  sup- 
per, and  I  built  a  fire  in  the  stove  and  Mother  put  on  the 
kettle  and  whatever  else  would  heat  enough  water  for  two, 
and  I  fetched  in  the  washtub  from  the  back  porch,  and  while 
Mother  washed  the  dishes  and  cleaned  up  the  kitchen,  Father 
and  I  sat  on  the  front  steps.  This  was  about  the  time  of  day 
that  Pete  and  I  would  walk  the  two  miles  down  to  Old  Man 
Killegrew's  house  last  December,  to  listen  to  the  radio  teli 
about  Pearl  Harbor  and  Manila.  But  more  than  Pearl  Harbor 


104  The  Country 

and  Manila  has  happened  since  then,  and  Pete  don't  make  one 
to  listen  to  it.  Nor  do  I:  it's  like,  since  nobody  can  tell  us 
exactly  where  he  was  when  he  stopped  being  is,  instead  of 
just  becoming  *was  at  some  single  spot  on  the  earth  where 
the  people  who  loved  him  could  weight  him  down  with  a 
stone,  Pete  still  is  everywhere  about  the  earth,  one  among  all 
the  fighters  forever,  <was  or  is  either.  So  Mother  and  Father 
and  I  don't  need  a  little  wooden  box  to  catch  the  voices  of 
them  that  saw  the  courage  and  the  sacrifice.  Then  Mother 
called  me  back  to  the  kitchen.  The  water  smoked  a  little  in 
the  washtub,  beside  the  soap  dish  and  my  clean  nightshirt  and 
the  towel  Mother  made  out  of  our  worn-out  cotton  sacks, 
and  I  bathe  and  empty  the  tub  and  leave  it  ready  for  her,  and 
we  lie  down. 

Then  morning,  and  we  rose.  Mother  was  up  first,  as  al- 
ways. My  clean  white  Sunday  shirt  and  pants  were  waiting, 
along  with  the  shoes  and  stockings  I  hadn't  even  seen  since 
frost  was  out  of  the  ground.  But  in  yesterday's  overalls  still 
I  carried  the  shoes  back  to  the  kitchen  where  Mother  stood 
in  yesterday's  dress  at  the  stove  where  not  only  our  breakfast 
was  cooking  but  Father's  dinner  too,  and  set  the  shoes  beside 
her  Sunday  ones  against  the  wall  and  went  to  the  barn,  and 
Father  and  I  fed  and  milked  and  came  back  and  sat  down  and 
ate  while  Mother  moved  back  and  forth  between  the  table 
and  the  stove  till  we  were  done,  and  she  herself  sat  down. 
Then  I  got  out  the  blacking-box,  until  Father  came  and  took 
it  away  from  me — the  polish  and  rag  and  brush  and  the  four 
shoes  in  succession.  "De  Spain  is  rich,"  he  said.  "With  a 
monkey  nigger  in  a  white  coat  to  hold  the  jar  up  each  time 
he  wants  to  spit.  You  shine  all  shoes  like  you  aimed  yourself 
to  wear  them:  just  the  parts  that  you  can  see  yourself  by 
looking  down." 

Then  we  dressed.  I  put  on  my  Sunday  shirt  and  the  pants 
so  stiff  with  starch  that  they  would  stand  alone,  and  carried 


Shall  Not  Perish  105 

my  stockings  back  to  the  kitchen  just  as  Mother  entered,  car- 
rying hers,  and  dressed  too,  even  her  hat,  and  took  my  stock- 
ings from  me  and  put  them  with  hers  on  the  table  beside  the 
shined  shoes,  and  lifted  the  satchel  down  from  the  cupboard 
shelf.  It  was  still  in  the  cardboard  box  it  came  in,  with  the 
colored  label  of  the  San  Francisco  drugstore  where  Pete 
bought  it — a  round,  square-ended,  water-proof  satchel  with 
a  handle  for  carrying,  so  that  as  soon  as  Pete  saw  it  in  the 
store  he  must  have  known  too  that  it  had  been  almost  exactly 
made  for  exactly  what  we  would  use  it  for,  with  a  zipper 
opening  that  Mother  had  never  seen  before  nor  Father  either. 
That  is,  we  had  all  three  been  in  the  drugstore  and  the  ten- 
cent-store  in  Jefferson  but  I  was  the  only  one  who  had  been 
curious  enough  to  find  out  how  one  worked,  even  though 
even  I  never  dreamed  we  would  ever  own  one.  So  it  was  me 
that  zipped  it  open,  with  a  pipe  and  a  can  of  tobacco  in  it  for 
Father  and  a  hunting  cap  with  a  carbide  headlight  for  me 
and  for  Mother  the  satchel  itself,  and  she  zipped  it  shut  and 
then  open  and  then  Father  tried  it,  running  the  slide  up  and 
down  the  little  clicking  track  until  Mother  made  him  stop 
before  he  wore  it  out;  and  she  put  the  satchel,  still  open,  back 
into  the  box  and  I  fetched  in  from  the  barn  the  empty  quart 
bottle  of  cattle-dip  and  she  scalded  the  bottle  and  cork  and 
put  them  and  the  clean  folded  towel  into  the  satchel  and  set 
the  box  onto  the  cupboard  shelf,  the  zipper  still  open  because 
when  we  came  to  need  it  we  would  have  to  open  it  first  and 
so  we  would  save  that  much  wear  on  the  zipper  too.  She 
took  the  satchel  from  the  box  and  the  bottle  from  the  satchel 
and  filled  the  bottle  with  clean  water  and  corked  it  and  put  it 
back  into  the  satchel  with  the  clean  towel  and  put  our  shoes 
and  stockings  in  and  zipped  the  satchel  shut,  and  we  walked 
to  the  road  and  stood  in  the  bright  hot  morning  beside  the 
mailbox  until  the  bus  came  up  and  stopped. 

It  was  the  school  bus,  the  one  I  rode  back  and  forth  to 


io6  The  Country 

Frenchman's  Bend  to  school  in  last  winter,  and  that  Pete  rode 
in  every  morning  and  evening  until  he  graduated,  but  going 
in  the  opposite  direction  now,  in  to  Jefferson,  and  only  on 
Saturday,  seen  for  a  long  time  down  the  long  straight  stretch 
of  Valley  road  while  other  people  waiting  beside  other  mail- 
boxes got  into  it.  Then  it  was  our  turn.  Mother  handed  the 
two  quarters  to  Solon  Quick,  who  built  it  and  owned  it  and 
drove  it,  and  we  got  in  too  and  it  went  on,  and  soon  there  was 
no  more  room  for  the  ones  that  stood  beside  the  mailboxes 
and  signalled  and  then  it  went  fast,  twenty  miles  then  ten 
then  five  then  one,  and  up  the  last  hill  to  where  the  concrete 
streets  began,  and  we  got  out  and  sat  on  the  curb  and  Mother 
opened  the  satchel  and  took  our  shoes  and  the  bottle  of  water 
and  the  towel  and  we  washed  our  feet  and  put  on  our  shoes 
and  stockings  and  Mother  put  the  bottle  and  towel  back  and 
shut  the  bag. 

And  we  walked  beside  the  iron  picket  fence  long  enough 
to  front  a  cotton  patch;  we  turned  into  the  yard  which  was 
bigger  than  farms  I  had  seen  and  followed  the  gravel  drive 
wider  and  smoother  than  roads  in  Frenchman's  Bend,  on  to 
the  house  that  to  me  anyway  looked  bigger  than  the  court- 
house, and  mounted  the  steps  between  the  stone  columns 
and  crossed  the  portico  that  would  have  held  our  whole 
house,  galleries  and  all,  and  knocked  at  the  door.  And  then 
it  never  mattered  whether  our  shoes  were  shined  at  all  or 
not:  the  whites  of  the  monkey  nigger's  eyes  for  just  a  second 
when  he  opened  the  door  for  us,  the  white  of  his  coat  for 
just  a  second  at  the  end  of  the  hall  before  it  was  gone  too, 
his  feet  not  making  any  more  noise  than  a  cat's  leaving  us 
to  find  the  right  door  by  ourselves,  if  we  could.  And  we 
did — the  rich  man's  parlor  that  any  woman  in  Frenchman's 
Bend  and  I  reckon  in  the  rest  of  the  county  too  could  have 
described  to  the  inch  but  which  not  even  the  men  who  would 
come  to  Major  de  Spain  after  bank-hours  or  on  Sunday  to 


Shall  Not  Perish  107 

ask  to  have  a  note  extended,  had  ever  seen,  with  a  light 
hanging  in  the  middle  of  the  ceiling  the  size  of  our  whole 
washtub  full  of  chopped-up  ice  and  a  gold-colored  harp 
that  would  have  blocked  our  barn  door  and  a  mirror  that 
a  man  on  a  mule  could  have  seen  himself  and  the  mule  both 
in,  and  a  table  shaped  like  a  coffin  in  the  middle  of  the  floor 
with  the  Confederate  flag  spread  over  it  and  the  photograph 
of  Major  de  Spain's  son  and  the  open  box  with  the  medal  in 
it  and  a  big  blue  automatic  pistol  weighting  down  the  flag, 
and  Major  de  Spain  standing  at  the  end  of  the  table  with  his 
hat  on  until  after  a  while  he  seemed  to  hear  and  recognize 
the  name  which  Mother  spoke; — not  a  real  major  but  just 
called  that  because  his  father  had  been  a  real  one  in  the  old 
Confederate  war,  but  a  banker  powerful  in  money  and 
politics  both,  that  Father  said  had  made  governors  and  sen- 
ators too  in  Mississippi; — an  old  man,  too  old  you  would  have 
said  to  have  had  a  son  just  twenty- three;  too  old  anyway 
to  have  had  that  look  on  his  face. 

"Ha,"  he  said.  "I  remember  now.  You  too  were  advised 
that  your  son  poured  out  his  blood  on  the  altar  of  unpre- 
paredness  and  inefficiency.  What  do  you  want?" 

"Nothing,"  Mother  said.  She  didn't  even  pause  at  the 
door.  She  went  on  toward  the  table.  "We  had  nothing  to 
bring  you.  And  I  don't  think  I  see  anything  here  we  would 
want  to  take  away." 

"You're  wrong,"  he  said.  "You  have  a  son  left.  Take  what 
they  have  been  advising  to  me:  go  back  home  and  pray. 
Not  for  the  dead  one:  for  the  one  they  have  so  far  left  you, 
that  something  somewhere,  somehow  will  save  him!"  She 
wasn't  even  looking  at  him.  She  never  had  looked  at  him 
again.  She  just  went  on  across  that  barn-sized  room  exactly 
as  I  have  watched  her  set  mine  and  Father's  lunch  pail  into 
the  fence  corner  when  there  wasn't  time  to  stop  the  plows 
to  eat,  and  turn  back  toward  the  house. 


io8  The  Country 

"I  can  tell  you  something  simpler  than  that,"  she  said. 
"Weep."  Then  she  reached  the  table.  But  it  was  only  her 
body  that  stopped,  her  hand  going  out  so  smooth  and  quick 
that  his  hand  only  caught  her  wrist,  the  two  hands  locked 
together  on  the  big  blue  pistol,  between  the  photograph  and 
the  little  hunk  of  iron  medal  on  its  colored  ribbon,  against 
that  old  flag  that  a  heap  of  people  I  knew  had  never  seen  and 
a  heap  more  of  them  wouldn't  recognize  if  they  did,  and  over 
all  of  it  the  old  man's  voice  that  ought  not  to  have  sounded 
like  that  either. 

"For  his  country!  He  had  no  country:  this  one  I  too  re- 
pudiate. His  country  and  mine  both  was  ravaged  and  polluted 
and  destroyed  eighty  years  ago,  before  even  I  was  born.  His 
forefathers  fought  and  died  for  it  then,  even  though  what 
they  fought  and  lost  for  was  a  dream.  He  didn't  even  have 
a  dream.  He  died  for  an  illusion.  In  the  interests  of  usury, 
by  the  folly  and  rapacity  of  politicians,  for  the  glory  and 
aggrandisement  of  organized  labor!" 

"Yes,"  Mother  said.  "Weep." 

"The  fear  of  elective  servants  for  their  incumbencies!  The 
subservience  of  misled  workingmen  for  the  demagogues  who 
misled  them!  Shame?  Grief?  How  can  poltroonery  and 
rapacity  and  voluntary  thralldom  know  shame  or  grief?" 

"All  men  are  capable  of  shame,"  Mother  said.  "Just  as  all 
men  are  capable  of  courage  and  honor  and  sacrifice.  And 
grief  too.  It  will  take  time,  but  they  will  learn  it.  It  will  take 
more  grief  than  yours  and  mine,  and  there  will  be  more.  But 
it  will  be  enough." 

"When?  When  all  the  young  men  are  dead?  What  will 
there  be  left  then  worth  the  saving?" 

"I  know,"  Mother  said.  "I  know.  Our  Pete  was  too  young 
too  to  have  to  die."  Then  I  realized  that  their  hands  were  no 
longer  locked,  that  he  was  erect  again  and  that  the  pistol 
was  hanging  slack  in  Mother's  hand  against  her  side,  and  for 


Shall  Not  Perish  109 

a  minute  I  thought  she  was  going  to  unzip  the  satchel  and 
take  the  towel  out  of  it.  But  she  just  laid  the  pistol  back  on 
the  table  and  stepped  up  to  him  and  took  the  handkerchief 
from  his  breast  pocket  and  put  it  into  his  hand  and  stepped 
back.  "That's  right,"  she  said.  "Weep.  Not  for  him:  for  us, 
the  old,  who  don't  know  why.  What  is  your  Negro's  name?" 

But  he  didn't  answer.  He  didn't  even  raise  the  handkerchief 
to  his  face.  He  just  stood  there  holding  it,  like  he  hadn't 
discovered  yet  that  it  was  in  his  hand,  or  perhaps  even  what 
it  was  Mother  had  put  there.  "For  us,  the  old,"  he  said.  "You 
believe.  You  have  had  three  months  to  learn  again,  to  find 
out  why;  mine  happened  yesterday.  Tell  me." 

"I  don't  know,"  Mother  said.  "Maybe  women  are  not 
supposed  to  know  why  their  sons  must  die  in  battle;  maybe 
all  they  are  supposed  to  do  is  just  to  grieve  for  them.  But  my 
son  knew  why  And  my  brother  went  to  the  war  when  I  was 
a  girl,  and  our  mother  didn't  know  why  either,  but  he  did. 
And  my  grandfather  was  in  that  old  one  there  too,  and  I 
reckon  his  mother  didn't  know  why  either,  but  I  reckon 
he  did.  And  my  son  knew  why  he  had  to  go  to  this  one,  and 
he  knew  I  knew  he  did  even  though  I  didn't,  just  as  he  knew 
that  this  child  here  and  I  both  knew  he  would  not  come  back. 
But  he  knew  why,  even  if  I  didn't,  couldn't,  never  can.  So  it 
must  be  all  right,  even  if  I  couldn't  understand  it.  Because 
there  is  nothing  in  him  that  I  or  his  father  didn't  put  there. 
What  is  your  Negro's  name?" 

He  called  the  name  then.  And  the  nigger  wasn't  so  far 
away  after  all,  though  when  he  entered  Major  de  Spain 
had  already  turned  so  that  his  back  was  toward  the  door. 
He  didn't  look  around.  He  just  pointed  toward  the  table  with 
the  hand  Mother  had  put  the  handkerchief  into,  and  the 
nigger  went  to  the  table  without  looking  at  anybody  and 
without  making  any  more  noise  on  the  floor  than  a  cat  and 
he  didn't  stop  at  all;  it  looked  to  me  like  he  had  already 


no  The  Country 

turned  and  started  back  before  he  even  reached  the  table: 
one  flick  of  the  black  hand  and  the  white  sleeve  and  the 
pistol  vanished  without  me  even  seeing  him  touch  it  and 
when  he  passed  me  again  going  out,  I  couldn't  see  what  he 
had  done  with  it.  So  Mother  had  to  speak  twice  before  I 
knew  she  was  talking  to  me. 
"Come,"  she  said. 

"Wait,"  said  Major  de  Spain.  He  had  turned  again,  facing 
us.  "What  you  and  his  father  gave  him.  You  must  know 
what  that  was." 

"I  know  it  came  a  long  way,"  Mother  said.  "So  it  must 
have  been  strong  to  have  lasted  through  all  of  us.  It  must 
have  been  all  right  for  him  to  be  willing  to  die  for  it  after 
that  long  time  and  coming  that  far.  Come,"  she  said  again. 
"Wait,"  he  said.  "Wait.  Where  did  you  come  from?" 
Mother  stopped.  "I  told  you:  Frenchman's  Bend." 
"I  know.  How?  By  wagon?  You  have  no  car." 
"Oh,"  Mother  said.  "We  came  in  Mr.  Quick's  bus.  He 
comes  in  every  Saturday." 

"And  waits  until  night  to  go  back.  I'll  send  you  back  in  my 
car."  He  called  the  nigger's  name  again.  But  Mother  stopped 
him.  "Thank  you,"  she  said.  "We  have  already  paid  Mr. 
Quick.  He  owes  us  the  ride  back  home." 

There  was  an  old  lady  born  and  raised  in  Jefferson  who 
died  rich  somewhere  in  the  North  and  left  some  money  to 
the  town  to  build  a  museum  with.  It  was  a  house  like  a 
church,  built  for  nothing  else  except  to  hold  the  pictures 
she  picked  out  to  put  in  it — pictures  from  all  over  the  United 
States,  painted  by  people  who  loved  what  they  had  seen  or 
where  they  had  been  born  or  lived  enough  to  want  to  paint 
pictures  of  it  so  that  other  people  could  see  it  too;  pictures 
of  men  and  women  and  children,  and  the  houses  and  streets 
and  cities  and  the  woods  and  fields  and  streams  where  they 
Worked  or  lived  or  pleasured,  so  that  all  the  people  who 


Shall  Not  Perish  1 1 1 

wanted  to,  people  like  us  from  Frenchman's  Bend  or  from 
littler  places  even  than  Frenchman's  Bend  in  our  county  or 
beyond  our  state  too,  could  come  without  charge  into  the 
cool  and  the  quiet  and  look  without  let  at  the  pictures  of 
men  and  women  and  children  who  were  the  same  people 
that  we  were  even  if  their  houses  and  barns  were  different 
and  their  fields  worked  different,  with  different  things  grow- 
ing in  them.  So  it  was  already  late  when  we  left  the  museum, 
and  later  still  when  we  got  back  to  where  the  bus  waited, 
and  later  still  more  before  we  got  started,  although  at  least 
we  could  get  into  the  bus  and  take  our  shoes  and  stockings 
back  off.  Because  Mrs.  Quick  hadn't  come  yet  and  so  Solon 
had  to  wait  for  her,  not  because  she  was  his  wife  but  because 
he  made  her  pay  a  quarter  out  of  her  egg-money  to  ride  to 
town  and  back  on  Saturday,  and  he  wouldn't  go  off  and 
leave  anybody  who  had  paid  him.  And  so,  even  though  the 
bus  ran  fast  again,  when  the  road  finally  straightened  out  into 
the  long  Valley  stretch,  there  was  only  the  last  sunset  spok- 
ing out  across  the  sky,  stretching  all  the  way  across  America 
from  the  Pacific  ocean,  touching  all  the  places  that  the  men 
and  women  in  the  museum  whose  names  we  didn't  even 
know  had  loved  enough  to  paint  pictures  of  them,  like  a 
big  soft  fading  wheel. 

And  I  remembered  how  Father  used  to  always  prove  any 
point  he  wanted  to  make  to  Pete  and  me,  by  Grandfather. 
It  didn't  matter  whether  it  was  something  he  thought  we 
ought  to  have  done  and  hadn't,  or  something  he  would  have 
stopped  us  from  doing  if  he  had  just  known  about  it  in 
time.  "Now,  take  your  Grandpap,"  he  would  say.  I  could 
remember  him  too:  Father's  grandfather  even,  old,  so  old 
you  just  wouldn't  believe  it,  so  old  that  it  would  seem  to 
me  he  must  have  gone  clean  back  to  the  old  fathers  in 
Genesis  and  Exodus  that  talked  face  to  face  with  God,  and 
Grandpap  outlived  them  all  except  him.  It  seemed  to  me  he 


ii2  The  Country 

must  have  been  too  old  even  to  have  actually  fought  in  the 
old  Confederate  war,  although  that  was  about  all  he  talked 
about,  not  only  when  we  thought  that  maybe  he  was  awake 
but  even  when  we  knew  he  must  be  asleep,  until  after  a 
while  we  had  to  admit  that  we  never  knew  which  one  he 
really  was.  He  would  sit  in  his  chair  under  the  mulberry  in 
the  yard  or  on  the  sunny  end  of  the  front  gallery  or  in  his 
corner  by  the  hearth;  he  would  start  up  out  of  the  chair  and 
we  still  wouldn't  know  which  one  he  was,  whether  he  never 
had  been  asleep  or  whether  he  hadn't  ever  waked  even  when 
he  jumped  up,  hollering,  "Look  out!  Look  out!  Here  they 
come!"  He  wouldn't  even  always  holler  the  same  name; 
they  wouldn't  even  always  be  on  the  same  side  or  even 
soldiers:  Forrest,  or  Morgan,  or  Abe  Lincoln,  or  Van  Dorn, 
or  Grant  or  Colonel  Sartoris  himself,  whose  people  still 
lived  in  our  county,  or  Mrs.  Rosa  Millard,  Colonel  Sartoris's 
mother-in-law  who  stood  off  the  Yankees  and  carpetbaggers 
too  for  the  whole  four  years  of  the  war  until  Colonel  Sartoris 
could  get  back  home.  Pete  thought  it  was  just  funny.  Father 
and  I  were  ashamed.  We  didn't  know  what  Mother  thought 
nor  even  what  it  was,  until  the  afternoon  at  the  picture  show. 
It  was  a  continued  picture,  a  Western;  it  seemed  to  me 
that  it  had  been  running  every  Saturday  afternoon  for  years. 
Pete  and  Father  and  I  would  go  in  to  town  every  Saturday 
to  see  it,  and  sometimes  Mother  would  go  too,  to  sit  there 
in  the  dark  while  the  pistols  popped  and  snapped  and  the 
horses  galloped  and  each  time  it  would  look  like  they  were 
going  to  catch  him  but  you  knew  they  wouldn't  quite,  that 
there  would  be  some  more  of  it  next  Saturday  and  the  one 
after  that  and  the  one  after  that,  and  always  the  week  in 
between  for  me  and  Pete  to  talk  about  the  villain's  pearl- 
handled  pistol  that  Pete  wished  was  his  and  the  hero's  spotted 
horse  that  I  wished  was  mine.  Then  one  Saturday  Mother 
decided  to  take  Grandpap.  He  sat  between  her  and  me, 


Shall  Not  Perish  113 

already  asleep  again,  so  old  now  that  he  didn't  even  have 
to  snore,  until  the  time  came  that  you  could  have  set  a  watch 
by  every  Saturday  afternoon:  when  the  horses  all  came 
plunging  down  the  cliff  and  whirled  around  and  came  boil- 
ing up  the  gully  until  in  just  one  more  jump  they  would 
come  clean  out  of  the  screen  and  go  galloping  among  the 
little  faces  turned  up  to  them  like  corn  shucks  scattered 
across  a  lot.  Then  Grandpap  waked  up.  For  about  five 
seconds  he  sat  perfectly  still.  I  could  even  feel  him  sitting 
still,  he  sat  so  still  so  hard.  Then  he  said,  "Cavalry!"  Then 
he  was  on  his  feet.  "Forrest!"  he  said.  "Bedford  Forrest!  Get 
out  of  here!  Get  out  of  the  way!"  clawing  and  scrabbling 
from  one  seat  to  the  next  one  whether  there  was  anybody 
in  them  or  not,  into  the  aisle  with  us  trying  to  follow  and 
catch  him,  and  up  the  aisle  toward  the  door  still  hollering, 
"Forrest!  Forrest!  Here  he  comes!  Get  out  of  the  way!" 
and  outside  at  last,  with  half  the  show  behind  us  and  Grand- 
pap  blinking  and  trembling  at  the  light  and  Pete  propped 
against  the  wall  by  his  arms  like  he  was  being  sick,  laughing, 
and  father  shaking  Grandpap's  arm  and  saying,  "You  old 
fool!  You  old  fool!"  until  Mother  made  him  stop.  And  we 
half  carried  him  around  to  the  alley  where  the  wagon  was 
hitched  and  helped  him  in  and  Mother  got  in  and  sat  by  hims 
holding  his  hand  until  he  could  begin  to  stop  shaking.  "Go 
get  him  a  bottle  of  beer,"  she  said. 

"He  don't  deserve  any  beer,"  Father  said.  "The  old  fool, 
having  the  whole  town  laughing.  .  .  ." 

"Go  get  him  some  beer!"  Mother  said.  "He's  going  to  sit 
right  here  in  his  own  wagon  and  drink  it.  Go  on!"  And 
Father  did,  and  Mother  held  the  bottle  until  Grandpap  got 
a  good  hold  on  it,  and  she  sat  holding  his  hand  until  he  got 
a  good  swallow  down  him.  Then  he  begun  to  stop  shaking. 
He  said,  "Ah-h-h,"  and  took  another  swallow  and  said, 


ii4  The  Country 

"Ah-h-h,"  again  and  then  he  even  drew  his  other  hand  out 
of  Mother's  and  he  wasn't  trembling  now  but  just  a  little, 
taking  little  darting  sips  at  the  bottle  and  saying  "Hah! "  and 
taking  another  sip  and  saying  "Hah!"  again,  and  not  just 
looking  at  the  bottle  now  but  looking  all  around,  and  his 
eyes  snapping  a  little  when  he  blinked.  "Fools  yourselves! " 
Mother  cried  at  Father  and  Pete  and  me.  "He  wasn't  running 
from  anybody!  He  was  running  in  front  of  them,  hollering 
at  all  clods  to  look  out  because  better  men  than  they  were 
coming,  even  seventy-five  years  afterwards,  still  powerful, 
still  dangerous,  still  coming!" 

And  I  knew  them  too.  I  had  seen  them  too,  who  had 
never  been  further  from  Frenchman's  Bend  than  I  could 
return  by  night  to  sleep.  It  was  like  the  wheel,  like  the  sun- 
set itself,  hubbed  at  that  little  place  that  don't  even  show 
on  a  map,  that  not  two  hundred  people  out  of  all  the  earth 
know  is  named  Frenchman's  Bend  or  has  any  name  at  all, 
and  spoking  out  in  all  the  directions  and  touching  them  all, 
never  a  one  too  big  for  it  to  touch,  never  a  one  too  little  to 
be  remembered: — the  places  that  men  and  women  have 
lived  in  and  loved  whether  they  had  anything  to  paint  pic- 
tures of  them  with  or  not,  all  the  little  places  quiet  enough 
to  be  lived  in  and  loved  and  the  names  of  them  before  they 
were  quiet  enough,  and  the  names  of  the  deeds  that  made 
them  quiet  enough  and  the  names  of  the  men  and  the  women 
who  did  the  deeds,  who  lasted  and  endured  and  fought  the 
battles  and  lost  them  and  fought  again  because  they  didn't 
even  know  they  had  been  whipped,  and  tamed  the  wilder- 
ness and  overpassed  the  mountains  and  deserts  and  died  and 
still  went  on  as  the  shape  of  the  United  States  grew  and 
went  on.  I  knew  them  too:  the  men  and  women  still  power- 
ful seventy-five  years  and  twice  that  and  twice  that  again 
afterward,  still  powerful  and  still  dangerous  and  still  com- 


Shall  Not  Perish  1 1 5 

ing,  North  and  South  and  East  and  West,  until  the  name  of 
what  they  did  and  what  they  died  for  became  just  one  single 
word,  louder  than  any  thunder.  It  was  America,  and  it 
covered  all  the  western  earth. 


II  •  THE  VILLAGE 


A  Rose  for  Emily 
Hair 

Centaur  in  Brass 

Dry  September 

Death  Drag 

Elly 

Uncle  Willy 

Mule  in  the  Yard 

That  Will  Be  Fine 

That  Evening  Sun 


A  Rose  for  Emily 


i 

WHEN  Miss  Emily  Grierson  died,  our  whole  town  went  to 
her  funeral:  the  men  through  a  sort  of  respectful  affection 
for  a  fallen  monument,  the  women  mostly  out  of  curiosity 
to  see  the  inside  of  her  house,  which  no  one  save  an  old  man- 
servant— a  combined  gardener  and  cook — had  seen  in  at 
least  ten  years. 

It  was  a  big,  squarish  frame  house  that  had  once  been 
white,  decorated  with  cupolas  and  spires  and  scrolled  bal* 
conies  in  the  heavily  lightsome  style  of  the  seventies,  set  on 
what  had  once  been  our  most  select  street.  But  garages  and 
cotton  gins  had  encroached  and  obliterated  even  the  august 
names  of  that  neighborhood;  only  Miss  Emily's  house  was 
left,  lifting  its  stubborn  and  coquettish  decay  above  the 
cotton  wagons  and  the  gasoline  pumps — an  eyesore  among 
eyesores.  And  now  Miss  Emily  had  gone  to  join  the  repre- 
sentatives of  those  august  names  where  they  lay  in  the  cedar- 
bemused  cemetery  among  the  ranked  and  anonymous 
graves  of  Union  and  Confederate  soldiers  who  fell  at  the 
battle  of  Jefferson. 

Alive,  Miss  Emily  had  been  a  tradition,  a  duty,  and  a  care; 
a  sort  of  hereditary  obligation  upon  the  town,  dating  from 
that  day  in  1 894  when  Colonel  Sartoris,  the  mayor — he  who 
fathered  the  edict  that  no  Negro  woman  should  appear  on 

119 


120  The  Village 

the  streets  without  an  apron — remitted  her  taxes,  the  dis- 
pensation dating  from  the  death  of  her  father  on  into 
perpetuity.  Not  that  Miss  Emily  would  have  accepted 
charity.  Colonel  Sartoris  invented  an  involved  tale  to  the 
effect  that  Miss  Emily's  father  had  loaned  money  to  the 
town,  which  the  town,  as  a  matter  of  business,  preferred 
this  way  of  repaying.  Only  a  man  of  Colonel  Sartoris'  gen- 
eration and  thought  could  have  invented  it,  and  only  a 
woman  could  have  believed  it. 

When  the  next  generation,  with  its  more  modern  ideas, 
became  mayors  and  aldermen,  this  arrangement  created 
some  little  dissatisfaction.  On  the  first  of  the  year  they  mailed 
her  a  tax  notice.  February  came,  and  there  was  no  reply. 
They  wrote  her  a  formal  letter,  asking  her  to  call  at  the 
sheriff's  office  at  her  convenience.  A  week  later  the  mayor 
wrote  her  himself,  offering  to  call  or  to  send  his  car  for  her, 
and  received  in  reply  a  note  on  paper  of  an  archaic  shape, 
in  a  thin,  flowing  calligraphy  in  faded  ink,  to  the  effect  that 
she  no  longer  went  out  at  all.  The  tax  notice  was  also  en- 
closed, without  comment. 

They  called  a  special  meeting  of  the  Board  of  Aldermen. 
A  deputation  waited  upon  her,  knocked  at  the  door  through 
which  no  visitor  had  passed  since  she  ceased  giving  china- 
painting  lessons  eight  or  ten  years  earlier.  They  were  ad- 
mitted by  the  old  Negro  into  a  dim  hall  from  which  a 
stairway  mounted  into  still  more  shadow.  It  smelled  of  dust 
and  disuse — a  close,  dank  smell.  The  Negro  led  them  into 
the  parlor.  It  was  furnished  in  heavy,  leather-covered  furni- 
ture. When  the  Negro  opened  the  blinds  of  one  window, 
they  could  see  that  the  leather  was  cracked;  and  when  they 
sat  down,  a  faint  dust  rose  sluggishly  about  their  thighs, 
spinning  with  slow  motes  in  the  single  sun-ray.  On  a  tar- 
nished gilt  easel  before  the  fireplace  stood  a  crayon  portrait 
of  Miss  Emily's  father. 


A  Rose  for  Emily  i  z  i 

They  rose  when  she  entered — a  small,  fat  woman  in 
black,  with  a  thin  gold  chain  descending  to  her  waist  and 
vanishing  into  her  belt,  leaning  on  an  ebony  cane  with  a 
tarnished  gold  head.  Her  skeleton  was  small  and  spare;  per- 
haps that  was  why  what  would  have  been  merely  plumpness 
in  another  was  obesity  in  her.  She  looked  bloated,  like  a  body 
long  submerged  in  motionless  water,  and  of  that  pallid  hue. 
Her  eyes,  lost  in  the  fatty  ridges  of  her  face,  looked  like 
two  small  pieces  of  coal  pressed  into  a  lump  of  dough  as  they 
moved  from  one  face  to  another  while  the  visitors  stated 
their  errand. 

She  did  not  ask  them  to  sit.  She  just  stood  in  the  door  and 
listened  quietly  until  the  spokesman  came  to  a  stumbling 
halt.  Then  they  could  hear  the  invisible  watch  ticking  at 
the  end  of  the  gold  chain. 

Her  voice  was  dry  and  cold.  "I  have  no  taxes  in  Jefferson. 
Colonel  Sartoris  explained  it  to  me.  Perhaps  one  of  you  can 
gain  access  to  the  city  records  and  satisfy  yourselves." 

"But  we  have.  We  are  the  city  authorities,  Miss  Emily. 
Didn't  you  get  a  notice  from  the  sheriff,  signed  by  him?" 

"I  received  a  paper,  yes,"  Miss  Emily  said.  "Perhaps  he 
considers  himself  the  sheriff  ...  I  have  no  taxes  in  Jefferson." 

"But  there  is  nothing  on  the  books  to  show  that,  you  see. 
We  must  go  by  the — " 

"See  Colonel  Sartoris.  I  have  no  taxes  in  Jefferson." 

"But,  Miss  Emily—" 

"See  Colonel  Sartoris."  (Colonel  Sartoris  had  been  dead 
almost  ten  years.)  "I  have  no  taxes  in  Jefferson.  Tobe!"  The 
Negro  appeared.  "Show  these  gentlemen  out." 

II 

So  SHE  vanquished  them,  horse  and  foot,  just  as  she  had 
vanquished  their  fathers  thirty  years  before  about  the  smelL 


122  The  Village 

That  was  two  years  after  her  father's  death  and  a  short  rime 
after  her  sweetheart — the  one  we  believed  would  marry  her 
— had  deserted  her.  After  her  father's  death  she  went  out 
very  little;  after  her  sweetheart  went  away,  people  hardly 
saw  her  at  all.  A  few  of  the  ladies  had  the  temerity  to  call, 
but  were  not  received,  and  the  only  sign  of  life  about  the 
place  was  the  Negro  man — a  young  man  then — going  in 
and  out  with  a  market  basket. 

"Just  as  if  a  man — any  man — could  keep  a  kitchen  prop- 
erly," the  ladies  said;  so  they  were  not  surprised  when  the 
smell  developed.  It  was  another  link  between  the  gross, 
teeming  world  and  the  high  and  mighty  Griersons. 

A  neighbor,  a  woman,  complained  to  the  mayor,  Judge 
Stevens,  eighty  years  old. 

"But  what  will  you  have  me  do  about  it,  madam?"  he  said. 

"Why,  send  her  word  to  stop  it,"  the  woman  said.  "Isn't 
there  a  law?" 

"I'm  sure  that  won't  be  necessary,"  Judge  Stevens  said. 
"It's  probably  just  a  snake  or  a  rat  that  nigger  of  hers  killed 
in  the  yard.  I'll  speak  to  him  about  it." 

The  next  day  he  received  two  more  complaints,  one  from 
a  man  who  came  in  diffident  deprecation.  "We  really  must 
do  something  about  it,  Judge.  I'd  be  the  last  one  in  the  world 
to  bother  Miss  Emily,  but  we've  got  to  do  something."  That 
night  the  Board  of  Aldermen  met — three  graybeards  and 
one  younger  man,  a  member  of  the  rising  generation. 

"It's  simple  enough,"  he  said.  "Send  her  word  to  have  her 
place  cleaned  up.  Give  her  a  certain  time  to  do  it  in,  and  if 
she  don't .  .  ." 

"Dammit,  sir,"  Judge  Stevens  said,  "will  you  accuse  a 
lady  to  her  face  of  smelling  bad?" 

So  the  next  night,  after  midnight,  four  men  crossed  Miss 
Emily's  lawn  and  slunk  about  the  house  like  burglars,  sniffing 
along  the  base  of  the  brickwork  and  at  the  cellar  openings 


A  Rose  for  Emily  1 2  3 

while  one  of  them  performed  a  regular  sowing  motion  with 
his  hand  out  of  a  sack  slung  from  his  shoulder.  They  broke 
open  the  cellar  door  and  sprinkled  lime  there,  and  in  all  the 
outbuildings.  As  they  recrossed  the  lawn,  a  window  that 
had  been  dark  was  lighted  and  Miss  Emily  sat  in  it,  the  light 
behind  her,  and  her  upright  torso  motionless  as  that  of  an 
idol.  They  crept  quietly  across  the  lawn  and  into  the  shadow 
of  the  locusts  that  lined  the  street.  After  a  week  or  two  the 
smell  went  away. 

That  was  when  people  had  begun  to  feel  really  sorry  for 
her.  People  in  our  town,  remembering  how  old  lady  Wyatt, 
her  great-aunt,  had  gone  completely  crazy  at  last,  believed 
that  the  Griersons  held  themselves  a  little  too  high  for  what 
they  really  were.  None  of  the  young  men  were  quite  good 
enough  for  Miss  Emily  and  such.  We  had  long  thought  of 
them  as  a  tableau,  Miss  Emily  a  slender  figure  in  white  in 
the  background,  her  father  a  spraddled  silhouette  in  the 
foreground,  his  back  to  her  and  clutching  a  horsewhip,  the 
two  of  them  framed  by  the  back-flung  front  door.  So  when 
she  got  to  be  thirty  and  was  still  single,  we  were  not  pleased 
exactly,  but  vindicated;  even  with  insanity  in  the  family 
she  wouldn't  have  turned  down  all  of  her  chances  if  they 
had  really  materialized. 

When  her  father  died,  it  got  about  that  the  house  was 
all  that  was  left  to  her;  and  in  a  way,  people  were  glad.  At 
last  they  could  pity  Miss  Emily.  Being  left  alone,  and  a 
pauper,  she  had  become  humanized.  Now  she  too  would 
know  the  old  thrill  and  the  old  despair  of  a  penny  more  or 
less. 

The  day  after  his  death  all  the  ladies  prepared  to  call  at 
the  house  and  offer  condolence  and  aid,  as  is  our  custom. 
Miss  Emily  met  them  at  the  door,  dressed  as  usual  and  with 
no  trace  of  grief  on  her  face.  She  told  them  that  her  father 
was  not  dead.  She  did  that  for  three  days,  with  the  ministers 


124  The  Village 

calling  on  her,  and  the  doctors,  trying  to  persuade  her  to 
let  them  dispose  of  the  body.  Just  as  they  were  about  to 
resort  to  law  and  force,  she  broke  down,  and  they  buried 
her  father  quickly. 

We  did  not  say  she  was  crazy  then.  We  believed  she  had 
to  do  that.  We  remembered  all  the  young  men  her  father 
had  driven  away,  and  we  knew  that  with  nothing  left,  she 
would  have  to  cling  to  that  which  had  robbed  her,  as  people 
will. 


Ill 

SHE  WAS  SICK  for  a  long  time.  When  we  saw  her  again,  her 
hair  was  cut  short,  making  her  look  like  a  girl,  with  a  vague 
resemblance  to  those  angels  in  colored  church  windows — 
sort  of  tragic  and  serene. 

The  town  had  just  let  the  contracts  for  paving  the  side- 
walks, and  in  the  summer  after  her  father's  death  they  began 
the  work.  The  construction  company  came  with  niggers  and 
mules  and  machinery,  and  a  foreman  named  Homer  Barron, 
a  Yankee — a  big,  dark,  ready  man,  with  a  big  voice  and  eyes 
lighter  than  his  face.  The  little  boys  would  follow  in  groups 
to  hear  him  cuss  the  niggers,  and  the  niggers  singing  in  time 
to  the  rise  and  fall  of  picks.  Pretty  soon  he  knew  every- 
body in  town.  Whenever  you  heard  a  lot  of  laughing  any- 
where about  the  square,  Homer  Barron  would  be  in  the 
center  of  the  group.  Presently  we  began  to  see  him  and  Miss 
Emily  on  Sunday  afternoons  driving  in  the  yellow-wheeled 
buggy  and  the  matched  team  of  bays  from  the  livery  stable. 

At  first  we  were  glad  that  Miss  Emily  would  have  an 
interest,  because  the  ladies  all  said,  "Of  course  a  Grierson 
would  not  think  seriously  of  a  Northerner,  a  day  laborer.'* 
But  there  were  still  others,  older  people,  who  said  that  even 
grief  could  not  cause  a  real  lady  to  forget  noblesse  oblige — • 


A  Rose  for  Emily  125 

without  calling  it  noblesse  oblige.  They  just  said,  "Poor 
Emily.  Her  kinsfolk  should  come  to  her."  She  had  some  kin 
in  Alabama;  but  years  ago  her  father  had  fallen  out  with 
them  over  the  estate  of  old  lady  Wyatt,  the  crazy  woman, 
and  there  was  no  communication  between  the  two  families. 
They  had  not  even  been  represented  at  the  funeral. 

And  as  soon  as  the  old  people  said,  "Poor  Emily,"  the 
whispering  began.  "Do  you  suppose  it's  really  so?"  they  said 
to  one  another.  "Of  course  it  is.  What  else  could  .  .  ."  This 
behind  their  hands;  rustling  of  craned  silk  and  satin  behind 
jalousies  closed  upon  the  sun  of  Sunday  afternoon  as  the 
thin,  swift  clop-clop-clop  of  the  matched  team  passed:  "Poor 
Emily." 

She  carried  her  head  high  enough — even  when  we  believed 
that  she  was  fallen.  It  was  as  if  she  demanded  more  than  ever 
the  recognition  of  her  dignity  as  the  last  Grierson;  as  if  it 
had  wanted  that  touch  of  earthiness  to  reaffirm  her  imper- 
viousness.  Like  when  she  bought  the  rat  poison,  the  arsenic. 
That  was  over  a  year  after  they  had  begun  to  say  "Poor 
Emily,"  and  while  the  two  female  cousins  were  visiting  her. 

"I  want  some  poison,"  she  said  to  the  druggist.  She  was 
over  thirty  then,  still  a  slight  woman,  though  thinner  than 
usual,  with  cold,  haughty  black  eyes  in  a  face  the  flesh  of 
which  was  strained  across  the  temples  and  about  the  eye- 
sockets  as  you  imagine  a  lighthouse-keeper's  face  ought  to 
look.  "I  want  some  poison,"  she  said. 

"Yes,  Miss  Emily.  What  kind?  For  rats  and  such?  I'd 
recom — " 

"I  want  the  best  you  have.  I  don't  care  what  kind." 

The  druggist  named  several.  "They'll  kill  anything  up 
to  an  elephant.  But  what  you  want  is — " 

"Arsenic,"  Miss  Emily  said.  "Is  that  a  good  one?" 

"Is  .  .  .  arsenic?  Yes,  ma'am.  But  what  you  want — " 

"I  want  arsenic." 


The  Village 

The  druggist  looked  down  at  her.  She  looked  back  at  him, 
erect,  her  face  like  a  strained  flag.  "Why,  of  course,"  the 
druggist  said.  "If  that's  what  you  want.  But  the  law  requires 
you  to  tell  what  you  are  going  to  use  it  for." 

Miss  Emily  just  stared  at  him,  her  head  tilted  back  in 
order  to  look  him  eye  for  eye,  until  he  looked  away  and 
went  and  got  the  arsenic  and  wrapped  it  up.  The  Negro 
delivery  boy  brought  her  the  package;  the  druggist  didn't 
come  back.  When  she  opened  the  package  at  home  there 
was  written  on  the  box,  under  the  skull  and  bones:  "For 
rats." 


IV 

So  THE  NEXT  day  we  all  said,  "She  will  kill  herself";  and  we 
said  it  would  be  the  best  thing.  When  she  had  first  begun 
to  be  seen  with  Homer  Barron,  we  had  said,  "She  will  marry 
him."  Then  we  said,  "She  will  persuade  him  yet,"  because 
Homer  himself  had  remarked — he  liked  men,  and  it  was 
known  that  he  drank  with  the  younger  men  in  the  Elks' 
Club — that  he  was  not  a  marrying  man.  Later  we  said, 
"Poor  Emily"  behind  the  jalousies  as  they  passed  on  Sunday 
afternoon  in  the  glittering  buggy,  Miss  Emily  with  her  head 
high  and  Homer  Barron  with  his  hat  cocked  and  a  cigar  in 
his  teeth,  reins  and  whip  in  a  yellow  glove. 

Then  some  of  the  ladies  began  to  say  that  it  was  a  disgrace 
to  the  town  and  a  bad  example  to  the  young  people.  The 
men  did  not  want  to  interfere,  but  at  last  the  ladies  forced 
the  Baptist  minister — Miss  Emily's  people  were  Episcopal — 
to  call  upon  her.  He  would  never  divulge  what  happened 
during  that  interview,  but  he  refused  to  go  back  again.  The 
next  Sunday  they  again  drove  about  the  streets,  and  the 
following  day  the  minister's  wife  wrote  to  Miss  Emily's 
relations  in  Alabama. 


A  Rose  for  Emily  127 

So  she  had  blood-kin  under  her  roof  again  and  we  sat 
back  to  watch  developments.  At  first  nothing  happened. 
Then  we  were  sure  that  they  were  to  be  married.  We  learned 
that  Miss  Emily  had  been  to  the  jeweler's  and  ordered  a 
man's  toilet  set  in  silver,  with  the  letters  H.  B.  on  each  piece. 
Two  days  later  we  learned  that  she  had  bought  a  complete 
outfit  of  men's  clothing,  including  a  nightshirt,  and  we  said, 
"They  are  married."  We  were  really  glad.  We  were  glad 
because  the  two  female  cousins  were  even  more  Grierson 
than  Miss  Emily  had  ever  been. 

So  we  were  not  surprised  when  Homer  Barron — the 
streets  had  been  finished  some  time  since — was  gone.  We 
were  a  little  disappointed  that  there  was  not  a  public  blow- 
ing-off ,  bur  we  believed  that  he  had  gone  on  to  prepare  for 
Miss  Emily's  coming,  or  to  give  her  a  chance  to  get  rid  of 
the  cousins.  (By  that  time  it  was  a  cabal,  and  we  were  all 
Miss  Emily's  allies  to  help  circumvent  the  cousins.)  Sure 
enough,  after  another  week  they  departed.  And,  as  we  had 
expected  all  along,  within  three  days  Homer  Barron  was 
back  in  town.  A  neighbor  saw  the  Negro  man  admit  him  at 
the  kitchen  door  at  dusk  one  evening. 

And  that  was  the  last  we  saw  of  Homer  Barron.  And  of 
Miss  Emily  for  some  time.  The  Negro  man  went  in  and  out 
with  the  market  basket,  but  the  front  door  remained  closed. 
Now  and  then  we  would  see  her  at  a  window  for  a  moment, 
as  the  men  did  that  night  when  they  sprinkled  the  lime,  but 
for  almost  six  months  she  did  not  appear  on  the  streets.  Then 
we  knew  that  this  was  to  be  expected  too;  as  if  that  quality 
of  her  father  which  had  thwarted  her  woman's  life  so  many 
times  had  been  too  virulent  and  too  furious  to  die. 

When  we  next  saw  Miss  Emily,  she  had  grown  fat  and 
her  hair  was  turning  gray.  During  the  next  few  years  it 
grew  grayer  and  grayer  until  it  attained  an  even  pepper-and- 
salt  iron-gray,  when  it  ceased  turning.  Up  to  the  dav  of  her 


ii8  The  Village 

death  at  seventy-four  it  was  still  that  vigorous  iron-gray, 
like  the  hair  of  an  active  man. 

From  that  time  on  her  front  door  remained  closed,  save 
for  a  period  of  six  or  seven  years,  when  she  was  about  forty, 
during  which  she  gave  lessons  in  china-painting.  She  fitted 
up  a  studio  in  one  of  the  downstairs  rooms,  where  the 
daughters  and  granddaughters  of  Colonel  Sartoris'  contem- 
poraries were  sent  to  her  with  the  same  regularity  and  in  the 
same  spirit  that  they  were  sent  to  church  on  Sundays  with 
a  twenty-five-cent  piece  for  the  collection  plate.  Meanwhile 
her  taxes  had  been  remitted. 

Then  the  newer  generation  became  the  backbone  and 
the  spirit  of  the  town,  and  the  painting  pupils  grew  up  and 
fell  away  and  did  not  send  their  children  to  her  with  boxes 
of  color  and  tedious  brushes  and  pictures  cut  from  the 
ladies'  magazines.  The  front  door  closed  upon  the  last  one 
and  remained  closed  for  good.  When  the  town  got  free 
postal  delivery,  Miss  Emily  alone  refused  to  let  them  fasten 
the  metal  numbers  above  her  door  and  attach  a  mailbox  to 
it.  She  would  not  listen  to  them. 

Daily,  monthly,  yearly  we  watched  the  Negro  grow  grayer 
and  more  stooped,  going  in  and  out  with  the  market  basket 
Each  December  we  sent  her  a  tax  notice,  which  would  be 
returned  by  the  post  office  a  week  later,  unclaimed.  Now  and 
then  we  would  see  her  in  one  of  the  downstairs  windows — 
she  had  evidently  shut  up  the  top  floor  of  the  house — like 
the  carven  torso  of  an  idol  in  a  niche,  looking  or  not  looking 
at  us,  we  could  never  tell  which.  Thus  she  passed  from  gen- 
eration to  generation — dear,  inescapable,  impervious,  tran- 
quil, and  perverse. 

And  so  she  died.  Fell  ill  in  the  house  filled  with  dust  and 
shadows,  with  only  a  doddering  Negro  man  to  wait  on  her. 
We  did  not  even  know  she  was  sick;  we  had  long  since 
given  up  trying  to  get  any  information  from  the  Negro 


A  Rose  for  Emily  129 

He  talked  to  no  one,  probably  not  even  to  her,  for  his  voice 
had  grown  harsh  and  rusty,  as  if  from  disuse. 

She  died  in  one  of  the  downstairs  rooms,  in  a  heavy 
walnut  bed  with  a  curtain,  her  gray  head  propped  on  a  pillow 
yellow  and  moldy  with  age  and  lack  of  sunlight. 

V 

THE  NEGRO  met  the  first  of  the  ladies  at  the  front  door  and 
let  them  in,  with  their  hushed,  sibilant  voices  and  their  quick, 
curious  glances,  and  then  he  disappeared.  He  walked  right 
through  the  house  and  out  the  back  and  was  not  seen  again. 

The  two  female  cousins  came  at  once.  They  held  the 
funeral  on  the  second  day,  with  the  town  coming  to  look 
at  Miss  Emily  beneath  a  mass  of  bought  flowers,  with  the 
crayon  face  of  her  father  musing  profoundly  above  the  bier 
and  the  ladies  sibilant  and  macabre;  and  the  very  old  men 
— some  in  their  brushed  Confederate  uniforms — on  the  porch 
and  the  lawn,  talking  of  Miss  Emily  as  if  she  had  been  a  con- 
temporary of  theirs,  believing  that  they  had  danced  with 
her  and  courted  her  perhaps,  confusing  time  with  its  math- 
ematical progression,  as  the  old  do,  to  whom  all  the  past  is 
not  a  diminishing  road  but,  instead,  a  huge  meadow  which 
no  winter  ever  quite  touches,  divided  from  them  now  by  the 
narrow  bottle-neck  of  the  most  recent  decade  of  years. 

Already  we  knew  that  there  was  one  room  in  that  region 
above  stairs  which  no  one  had  seen  in  forty  years,  and  which 
would  have  to  be  forced.  They  waited  until  Miss  Emily 
was  decently  in  the  ground  before  they  opened  it. 

The  violence  of  breaking  down  the  door  seemed  to  fill 
this  room  with  pervading  dust.  A  thin,  acrid  pall  as  of  the 
tomb  seemed  to  lie  everywhere  upon  this  room  decked  and 
furnished  as  for  a  bridal:  upon  the  valance  curtains  of  faded 
rose  color,  upon  the  rose-shaded  lights,  upon  the  dressing 


130  The  Village 

table,  upon  the  delicate  array  of  crystal  and  the  man's  toilet 
things  backed  with  tarnished  silver,  silver  so  tarnished  that 
the  monogram  was  obscured.  Among  them  lay  a  collar  and 
tie,  as  if  they  had  just  been  removed,  which,  lifted,  left  upon 
the  surface  a  pale  crescent  in  the  dust.  Upon  a  chair  hung 
the  suit,  carefully  folded;  beneath  it  the  two  mute  shoes 
and  the  discarded  socks. 

The  man  himself  lay  in  the  bed. 

For  a  long  while  we  just  stood  there,  looking  down  at  the 
profound  and  fleshless  grin.  The  body  had  apparently  once 
lain  in  the  attitude  of  an  embrace,  but  now  the  long  sleep 
that  outlasts  love,  that  conquers  even  the  grimace  of  love, 
had  cuckolded  him.  What  was  left  of  him,  rotted  beneath 
what  was  left  of  the  nightshirt,  had  become  inextricable 
from  the  bed  in  which  he  lay;  and  upon  him  and  upon  the 
pillow  beside  him  lay  that  even  coating  of  the  patient  and 
biding  dust. 

Then  we  noticed  that  in  the  second  pillow  was  the  inden- 
tation of  a  head.  One  of  us  lifted  something  from  it,  and 
leaning  forward,  that  faint  and  invisible  dust  dry  and  acrid 
in  the  nostrils,  we  saw  a  long  strand  of  iron-gray  hair. 


Hair 


THIS  GIRL,  this  Susan  Reed,  was  an  orphan.  She  lived  with 
a  family  named  Burchett,  that  had  some  more  children,  two 
or  three  more.  Some  said  that  Susan  was  a  niece  or  a  cousin 
or  something;  others  cast  the  usual  aspersions  on  the  char- 
acter of  Burchett  and  even  of  Mrs.  Burchett:  you  know. 
Women  mostly,  these  were. 

She  was  about  five  when  Hawkshaw  first  came  to  town. 
It  was  his  first  summer  behind  that  chair  in  Maxey's  barber 
shop  that  Mrs  Burchett  brought  Susan  in  for  the  first  time. 
Maxey  told  me  about  how  him  and  the  other  barbers  watched 
Mrs  Burchett  trying  for  three  days  to  get  Susan  (she  was 
a  thin  little  girl  then,  with  big  scared  eyes  and  this  straight, 
soft  hair  not  blonde  and  not  brunette)  into  the  shop.  And 
Maxey  told  how  at  last  it  was  Hawkshaw  that  went  out 
into  the  street  and  worked  with  the  girl  for  about  fifteen 
minutes  until  he  got  her  into  the  shop  and  into  his  chair — 
him  that  hadn't  never  said  more  than  Yes  or  No  to  any  man 
or  woman  in  the  town  that  anybody  ever  saw.  "Be  durn  if 
it  didn't  look  like  Hawkshaw  had  been  waiting  for  her  to 
come  along,"  Maxey  told  me. 

That  was  her  first  haircut.  Hawkshaw  gave  it  to  her,  and 
her  sitting  there  under  the  cloth  like  a  little  scared  rabbit. 
But  six  months  after  that  she  was  coming  to  the  shop  by 


132  The  Village 

herself  and  letting  Hawkshaw  cut  her  hair,  still  looking  like 
a  little  old  rabbit,  with  her  scared  face  and  those  big  eyes 
and  that  hair  without  any  special  name  showing  above  the 
cloth.  If  Hawkshaw  was  busy,  Maxey  said  she  would  come 
in  and  sit  on  the  waiting  bench  close  to  his  chair  with  her 
legs  sticking  straight  out  in  front  of  her  until  Hawkshaw 
got  done.  Maxey  says  they  considered  her  Hawkshaw's  client 
the  same  as  if  she  had  been  a  Saturday  night  shaving  cus- 
tomer. He  says  that  one  time  the  other  barber,  Matt  Fox, 
offered  to  wait  on  her,  Hawkshaw  being  busy,  and  that 
Hawkshaw  looked  up  like  a  flash.  "I'll  be  done  in  a  minute," 
he  says.  "Pll  tend  to  her."  Maxey  told  me  that  Hawkshaw 
had  been  working  for  him  for  almost  a  year  then,  but  that 
was  the  first  time  he  ever  heard  him  speak  positive  about 
anything. 

That  fall  the  girl  started  to  school.  She  would  pass  the 
barber  shop  each  morning  and  afternoon.  She  was  still  shy, 
walking  fast  like  little  girls  do,  with  that  yellow-brown  head 
of  hers  passing  the  window  level  and  fast  like  she  was  on 
skates.  She  was  always  by  herself  at  first,  but  pretty  soon 
her  head  would  be  one  of  a  clump  of  other  heads,  all  talking, 
not  looking  toward  the  window  at  all,  and  Hawkshaw  stand- 
ing there  in  the  window,  looking  out.  Maxey  said  him  and 
Matt  would  not  have  to  look  at  the  clock  at  all  to  tell  when 
five  minutes  to  eight  and  to  three  o'clock  came,  because  they 
could  tell  by  Hawkshaw.  It  was  like  he  would  kind  of  drift 
up  to  the  window  without  watching  himself  do  it,  and  be 
looking  out  about  the  time  for  the  school  children  to  begin 
to  pass.  When  she  would  come  to  the  shop  for  a  haircut, 
Hawkshaw  would  give  her  two  or  three  of  those  pepper- 
mints where  he  would  give  the  other  children  just  one, 
Maxey  told  me. 

No;  it  was  Matt  Fox,  the  other  barber,  told  me  that.  He 
was  the  one  who  told  me  about  the  doll  Hawkshaw  gave  her 


Hair  1 3  3 

on  Christmas.  I  don't  know  how  he  found  it  out.  Hawkshaw 
never  told  him.  But  he  knew  some  way;  he  knew  more  about 
Hawkshaw  than  Maxey  did.  He  was  a  married  man  himself, 
Matt  was.  A  kind  of  fat,  flabby  fellow,  with  a  pasty  face 
and  eyes  that  looked  tired  or  sad — something.  A  funny 
fellow,  and  almost  as  good  a  barber  as  Hawkshaw.  He  never 
talked  much  either,  and  I  don't  know  how  he  could  have 
known  so  much  about  Hawkshaw  when  a  talking  man 
couldn't  get  much  out  of  him.  I  guess  maybe  a  talking  man 
hasn't  got  the  time  to  ever  learn  much  about  anything  except 
words. 

Anyway,  Matt  told  me  about  how  Hawkshaw  gave  her 
a  present  every  Christmas,  even  after  she  got  to  be  a  big  girl. 
She  still  came  to  him,  to  his  chair,  and  him  watching  her 
every  morning  and  afternoon  when  she  passed  to  and  from 
school.  A  big  girl,  and  she  wasn't  shy  any  more. 

You  wouldn't  have  thought  she  was  the  same  girl.  She 
got  grown  fast.  Too  fast.  That  was  the  trouble.  Some  said  it 
was  being  an  orphan  and  all.  But  it  wasn't  that.  Girls  are 
different  from  boys.  Girls  are  born  weaned  and  boys  don't 
ever  get  weaned.  You  see  one  sixty  years  old,  and  be  damned 
if  he  won't  go  back  to  the  perambulator  at  the  bat  of  an  eye. 

It's  not  that  she  was  bad.  There's  not  any  such  thing  as  a 
woman  born  bad,  because  they  are  all  born  bad,  born  with 
the  badness  in  them.  The  thing  is,  to  get  them  married  before 
the  badness  comes  to  a  natural  head.  But  we  try  to  make 
them  conform  to  a  system  that  says  a  woman  can't  be  mar- 
ried until  she  reaches  a  certain  age.  And  nature  don't  pay 
any  attention  to  systems,  let  alone  women  paying  any  atten- 
tion to  them,  or  to  anything.  She  just  grew  up  too  fast.  She 
reached  the  point  where  the  badness  came  to  a  head  before 
the  system  said  it  was  time  for  her  to.  I  think  they  can't  help 
it.  I  have  a  daughter  of  my  own,  and  I  say  that. 

So  there  she  was.  Matt  told  me  they  figured  up  and  she 


134  The  Village 

couldn't  have  been  more  than  thirteen  when  Mrs  Burchett 
whipped  her  one  day  for  using  rouge  and  paint,  and  during 
that  year,  he  said,  they  would  see  her  with  two  or  three 
other  girls  giggling  and  laughing  on  the  street  at  all  hours 
when  they  should  have  been  in  school;  still  thin,  with  that 
hair  still  not  blonde  and  not  brunette,  with  her  face  caked 
with  paint  until  you  would  have  thought  it  would  crack 
like  dried  mud  when  she  laughed,  with  the  regular  simple 
gingham  and  such  dresses  that  a  thirteen-year-old  child 
ought  to  wear  pulled  and  dragged  to  show  off  what  she 
never  had  yet  to  show  off,  like  the  older  girls  did  with  their 
silk  and  crepe  and  such. 

Matt  said  he  watched  her  pass  one  day,  when  all  of  a 
sudden  he  realized  she  never  had  any  stockings  on.  He  said 
he  thought  about  it  and  he  said  he  could  not  remember  that 
she  ever  did  wear  stockings  in  the  summer,  until  he  realized 
that  what  he  had  noticed  was  not  the  lack  of  stockings,  but 
that  her  legs  were  like  a  woman's  legs:  female.  And  her  only 
thirteen. 

I  say  she  couldn't  help  herself.  It  wasn't  her  fault.  And 
it  wasn't  Burchett's  fault,  either.  Why,  nobody  can  be  as 
gentle  with  them,  the  bad  ones,  the  ones  that  are  unlucky 
enough  to  come  to  a  head  too  soon,  as  men.  Look  at  the 
way  they — all  the  men  in  town — treated  Hawkshaw.  Even 
after  folks  knew,  after  all  the  talk  began,  there  wasn't  a  man 
of  them  talked  before  Hawkshaw.  I  reckon  they  thought 
he  knew  too,  had  heard  some  of  the  talk,  but  whenever  they 
talked  about  her  in  the  shop,  it  was  while  Hawkshaw  was 
not  there.  And  I  reckon  the  other  men  were  the  same,  be- 
cause there  was  not  a  one  of  them  that  hadn't  seen  Hawk- 
shaw at  the  window,  looking  at  her  when  she  passed,  or 
looking  at  her  on  the  street;  happening  to  kind  of  be  passing 
the  picture  show  when  it  let  out  and  she  would  come  out 
with  some  fellow,  having  begun  to  go  with  them  before  she 


Hair  135 

was  fourteen.  Folks  said  how  she  would  have  to  slip  out  and 
meet  them  and  slip  back  into  the  house  again  with  Mrs 
Burchett  thinking  she  was  at  the  home  of  a  girl  friend. 

They  never  talked  about  her  before  Hawkshaw.  They 
would  wait  until  he  was  gone,  to  dinner,  or  on  one  of  those 
two- weeks'  vacations  of  his  in  April  that  never  anybody 
could  find  out  about;  where  he  went  or  anything.  But  he 
would  be  gone,  and  they  would  watch  the  girl  slipping 
around,  skirting  trouble,  bound  to  get  into  it  sooner  or  later, 
even  if  Burchett  didn't  hear  something  first.  She  had  quit 
school  a  year  ago.  For  a  year  Burchett  and  Mrs  Burchett 
thought  that  she  was  going  to  school  every  day,  when  she 
hadn't  been  inside  the  building  even.  Somebody — one  of  the 
high-school  boys  maybe,  but  she  never  drew  any  lines: 
schoolboys,  married  men,  anybody — would  get  her  a  report 
card  every  month  and  she  would  fill  it  out  herself  and  take 
it  home  for  Mrs  Burchett  to  sign.  It  beats  the  devil  how  the 
folks  that  love  a  woman  will  let  her  fool  them. 

So  she  quit  school  and  went  to  work  in  the  ten-cent  store. 
She  would  come  to  the  shop  for  a  haircut,  all  painted  up, 
in  some  kind  of  little  flimsy  off-color  clothes  that  showed 
her  off,  with  her  face  watchful  and  bold  and  discreet  all  at 
once,  and  her  hair  gummed  and  twisted  about  her  face.  But 
even  the  stuff  she  put  on  it  couldn't  change  that  brown- 
yellow  color.  Her  hair  hadn't  changed  at  all.  She  wouldn't 
always  go  to  Hawkshaw's  chair.  Even  when  his  chair  was 
empty,  she  would  sometimes  take  one  of  the  others,  talking 
to  the  barbers,  filling  the  whole  shop  with  noise  and  perfume 
and  her  legs  sticking  out  from  under  the  cloth.  Hawkshaw 
wouldn't  look  at  her  then.  Even  when  he  wasn't  busy,  he 
had  a  way  of  looking  the  same:  intent  and  down-looking 
like  he  was  making  out  to  be  busy,  hiding  behind  the  mak- 
ing-out. 

That  was  how  it  was  when  he  left  two  weeks  ago  on  that 


136  The  Village 

April  vacation  of  his,  that  secret  trip  that  folks  had  given  up 
trying  to  find  where  he  went  ten  years  ago.  I  made  Jefferson 
a  couple  of  days  after  he  left,  and  I  was  in  the  shop.  They 
were  talking  about  him  and  her. 

"Is  he  still  giving  her  Christmas  presents?"  I  said. 

"He  bought  her  a  wrist  watch  two  years  ago,"  Matt  Fox 
said.  "Paid  sixty  dollars  for  it." 

Maxey  was  shaving  a  customer.  He  stopped,  the  razor  in 
his  hand,  the  blade  loaded  with  lather.  "Well,  I'll  be  durned," 
he  said.  "Then  he  must —  You  reckon  he  was  the  first  one, 
the  one  that — " 

Matt  hadn't  looked  around.  "He  aint  give  it  to  her  yet," 
he  said. 

"Well,  durn  his  tight-fisted  time,"  Maxey  said.  "Any  old 
man  that  will  fool  with  a  young  girl,  he's  pretty  bad.  But  a 
fellow  that  will  trick  one  and  then  not  even  pay  her  noth- 
ing-" 

Matt  looked  around  now;  he  was  shaving  a  customer  too. 
"What  would  you  say  if  you  heard  that  the  reason  he  aint 
give  it  to  her  is  that  he  thinks  she  is  too  young  to  receive 
jewelry  from  anybody  that  aint  kin  to  her?" 

"You  mean,  he  dont  know?  He  dont  know  what  every- 
body else  in  this  town  except  maybe  Mr  and  Mrs  Burchett 
has  knowed  for  three  years?" 

Matt  went  back  to  work  again,  his  elbow  moving  steady, 
the  razor  moving  in  little  jerks.  "How  would  he  know? 
Aint  anybody  but  a  woman  going  to  tell  him.  And  he  dont 
know  any  women  except  Mrs  Cowan.  And  I  reckon  she 
thinks  he's  done  heard." 

"That's  a  fact,"  Maxey  says. 

That  was  how  things  were  when  he  went  off  on  his  vaca- 
tion two  weeks  ago.  I  worked  Jefferson  in  a  day  and  a  half, 
and  went  on.  In  the  middle  of  the  next  week  I  reached 


Hair  137 

Division.  I  didn't  hurry.  I  wanted  to  give  him  time.  It  was 
on  a  Wednesday  morning  I  got  there. 

II 

IF  THERE  HAD  BEEN  love  once,  a  man  would  have  said  that 
Hawkshaw  had  forgotten  her.  Meaning  love,  of  course. 
When  I  first  saw  him  thirteen  years  ago  (I  had  just  gone  on 
the  road  then,  making  North  Mississippi  and  Alabama  with 
a  line  of  work  shirts  and  overalls)  behind  a  chair  in  the 
barber  shop  in  Porterfield,  I  said,  "Here  is  a  bachelor  born. 
Here  is  a  man  who  was  born  single  and  forty  years  old." 

A  little,  sandy-complected  man  with  a  face  you  would 
not  remember  and  would  not  recognize  again  ten  minutes 
later,  in  a  blue  serge  suit  and  a  black  bow  tie,  the  kind  that 
snaps  together  in  the  back,  that  you  buy  already  tied  in  the 
store.  Maxey  told  me  he  was  still  wearing  that  serge  suit  and 
tie  when  he  got  off  the  south-bound  train  in  Jefferson  a 
year  later,  carrying  one  of  these  imitation  leather  suitcases. 
And  when  I  saw  him  again  in  Jefferson  in  the  next  year, 
behind  a  chair  in  Maxey 's  shop,  if  it  had  not  been  for  the 
chair  I  wouldn't  have  recognized  him  at  all.  Same  face,  same 
tie;  be  damned  if  it  wasn't  like  they  had  picked  him  up, 
chair,  customer  and  all,  and  set  him  down  sixty  miles  away 
without  him  missing  a  lick.  I  had  to  look  back  out  the  win- 
dow at  the  square  to  be  sure  I  wasn't  in  Porterfield  myself 
any  time  a  year  ago.  And  that  was  the  first  time  I  realized 
that  when  I  had  made  Porterfield  about  six  weeks  back,  he 
had  not  been  there. 

It  was  three  years  after  that  before  I  found  out  about  him. 
I  would  make  Division  about  five  times  a  year — a  store  and 
four  or  five  houses  and  a  sawmill  on  the  State  line  between 
Mississippi  and  Alabama.  I  had  noticed  a  house  there.  It  was 
a  good  house,  one  of  the  best  there,  and  it  was  always  closed. 


138  The  Village 

When  I  would  make  Division  in  the  late  spring  or  the  early 
summer  there  would  always  be  signs  of  work  around  the 
house.  The  yard  would  be  cleaned  up  of  weeds,  and  the 
flower  beds  tended  to  and  the  fences  and  roof  fixed.  Then 
when  I  would  get  back  to  Division  along  in  the  fall  or  the 
winter,  the  yard  would  be  grown  up  in  weeds  again,  and 
maybe  some  of  the  pickets  gone  off  the  fence  where  folks 
had  pulled  them  off  to  mend  their  own  fences  or  maybe  for 
firewood;  I  dont  know.  And  the  house  would  be  always 
closed;  never  any  smoke  at  the  kitchen  chimney.  So  one  day 
I  asked  the  storekeeper  about  it  and  he  told  me. 

It  had  belonged  to  a  man  named  Starnes,  but  the  family 
was  all  dead.  They  were  considered  the  best  folks,  because 
they  owned  some  land,  mortgaged.  Starnes  was  one  of  these 
lazy  men  that  was  satisfied  to  be  a  landowner  as  long  as  he 
had  enough  to  eat  and  a  little  tobacco.  They  had  one  daugh- 
ter that  went  and  got  herself  engaged  to  a  young  fellow, 
son  of  a  tenant  farmer.  The  mother  didn't  like  the  idea,  but 
Starnes  didn't  seem  to  object.  Maybe  because  the  young 
fellow  (his  name  was  Stribling)  was  a  hard  worker;  maybe 
because  Starnes  was  just  too  lazy  to  object.  Anyway,  they 
were  engaged  and  Stribling  saved  his  money  and  went  to 
Birmingham  to  learn  barbering.  Rode  part  of  the  way  in 
wagons  and  walked  the  rest,  coming  back  each  summer  to 
see  the  girl. 

Then  one  day  Starnes  died,  sitting  in  his  chair  on  the 
porch;  they  said  that  he  was  too  lazy  to  keep  on  breathing, 
and  they  sent  for  Stribling.  I  heard  he  had  built  up  a  good 
trade  of  his  own  in  the  Birmingham  shop,  saving  his  money; 
they  told  me  he  had  done  picked  out  the  apartment  and 
paid  down  on  the  furniture  and  all,  and  that  they  were  to  be 
married  that  summer.  He  came  back.  All  Starnes  had  ever 
raised  was  a  mortgage,  so  Stribling  paid  for  the  burial.  It 
cost  a  right  smart,  more  than  Starnes  was  worth,  but  Mrs 


Hair  139 

Starnes  had  to  be  suited.  So  Stribling  had  to  start  saving 
again. 

But  he  had  already  leased  the  apartment  and  paid  down 
on  the  furniture  and  the  ring  and  he  had  bought  the  wedding 
license  when  they  sent  for  him  again  in  a  hurry.  It  was  the 
girl  this  time.  She  had  some  kind  of  fever.  These  backwoods 
folks:  you  know  how  it  is.  No  doctors,  or  veterinaries,  if 
they  are.  Cut  them  and  shoot  them:  that's  all  right.  But  let 
them  get  a  bad  cold  and  maybe  they'll  get  well  or  maybe 
they'll  die  two  days  later  of  cholera.  She  was  delirious  when 
Stribling  got  there.  They  had  to  cut  all  her  hair  off.  Strib- 
ling did  that,  being  an  expert  you  might  say;  a  professional 
in  the  family.  They  told  me  she  was  one  of  these  thin,  un- 
healthy girls  anyway,  with  a  lot  of  straight  hair  not  brown 
and  not  yellow. 

She  never  knew  him,  never  knew  who  cut  off  her  hair. 
She  died  so,  without  knowing  anything  about  it,  without 
knowing  even  that  she  died,  maybe.  She  just  kept  on  saying, 
"Take  care  of  maw.  The  mortgage.  Paw  wont  like  it  to  be 
left  so.  Send  for  Henry  (That  was  him:  Henry  Stribling; 
Hawkshaw:  I  saw  him  the  next  year  in  Jefferson.  "So  you're 
Henry  Stribling,"  I  said).  The  mortgage.  Take  care  of  maw. 
Send  for  Henry.  The  mortgage.  Send  for  Henry."  Then 
she  died.  There  was  a  picture  of  her,  the  only  one  they  had. 
Hawkshaw  sent  it,  with  a  lock  of  the  hair  he  had  cut  off,  to 
an  address  in  a  farm  magazine,  to  have  the  hair  made  into 
a  frame  for  the  picture.  But  they  both  got  lost,  the  hair  and 
the  picture,  in  the  mail  somehow.  Anyway  he  never  got 
either  of  them  back. 

He  buried  the  girl  too,  and  the  next  year  (he  had  to  go 
back  to  Birmingham  and  get  shut  of  the  apartment  which  he 
had  engaged  and  let  the  furniture  go  so  he  could  save  again) 
he  put  a  headstone  over  her  grave.  Then  he  went  away 
again  and  they  heard  how  he  had  quit  the  Birmingham  shop. 


140  The  Village 

He  just  quit  and  disappeared,  and  they  all  saying  how  in 
time  he  would  have  owned  the  shop.  But  he  quit,  and  next 
April,  just  before  the  anniversary  of  the  girl's  death,  he 
showed  up  again.  He  came  to  see  Mrs  Starnes  and  went 
away  again  in  two  weeks. 

After  he  was  gone  they  found  out  how  he  had  stopped 
at  the  bank  at  the  county  seat  and  paid  the  interest  on  the 
mortgage.  He  did  that  every  year  until  Mrs  Starnes  died. 
She  happened  to  die  while  he  was  there.  He  would  spend 
about  two  weeks  cleaning  up  the  place  and  fixing  it  so  she 
would  be  comfortable  for  another  year,  and  she  letting  him, 
being  as  she  was  better  born  than  him;  being  as  he  was  one 
of  these  parveynoos.  Then  she  died  too.  "You  know  what 
Sophie  said  to  do,"  she  says.  "That  mortgage.  Mr  Starnes 
will  be  worried  when  I  see  him." 

So  he  buried  her  too.  He  bought  another  headstone,  to 
suit  her.  Then  he  begun  to  pay  the  principal  on  the  mort- 
gage. Starnes  had  some  kin  in  Alabama.  The  folks  in  Divi- 
sion expected  the  kin  to  come  and  claim  the  place.  But  maybe 
the  kin  were  waiting  until  Hawkshaw  had  got  the  mortgage 
cleared.  He  made  the  payment  each  year,  coming  back  and 
cleaning  up  the  place.  They  said  he  would  clean  up  that 
house  inside  like  a  woman,  washing  and  scrubbing  it.  It 
would  take  him  two  weeks  each  April.  Then  he  would  go 
away  again,  nobody  knew  where,  returning  each  April  to 
make  the  payment  at  the  bank  and  clean  up  that  empty 
house  that  never  belonged  to  him. 

He  had  been  doing  that  for  about  five  years  when  I  saw 
him  in  Maxey's  shop  in  Jefferson,  the  year  after  I  saw  him 
in  a  shop  in  Porterfield,  in  that  serge  suit  and  that  black 
bow  tie.  Maxey  said  he  had  them  on  when  he  got  off  the 
south-bound  train  that  day  in  Jefferson,  carrying  that  paper 
suitcase.  Maxey  said  they  watched  him  for  two  days  about 
the  square,  him  not  seeming  to  know  anybody  or  to  have 


Hair  141 

any  business  or  to  be  in  any  hurry;  just  walking  about  the 
square  like  he  was  just  looking  around. 

It  was  the  young  fellows,  the  loafers  that  pitch  dollars  all 
day  long  in  the  clubhouse  yard,  waiting  for  the  young  girls 
to  come  giggling  down  to  the  post  office  and  the  soda  foun- 
tain in  the  late  afternoon,  working  their  hips  under  their 
dresses,  leaving  the  smell  of  perfume  when  they  pass,  that 
gave  him  his  name.  They  said  he  was  a  detective,  maybe 
because  that  was  the  last  thing  in  the  world  anybody  would 
suspect  him  to  be.  So  they  named  him  Hawkshaw,  and 
Hawkshaw  he  remained  for  the  twelve  years  he  stayed  in 
Jefferson,  behind  that  chair  in  Maxey's  shop.  He  told  Maxey 
he  was  from  Alabama. 

"What  part?"  Maxey  said.  "Alabama's  a  big  place. 
Birmingham?"  Maxey  said,  because  Hawkshaw  looked  like 
he  might  have  come  from  almost  anywhere  in  Alabama 
except  Birmingham. 

"Yes,"  Hawkshaw  said.  "Birmingham." 

And  that  was  all  they  ever  got  out  of  him  until  I  hap- 
pened to  notice  him  behind  the  chair  and  to  remember  him 
back  in  Porterfield. 

"Porterfield?"  Maxey  said.  "My  brother-in-law  owns  that 
shop.  You  mean  you  worked  in  Porterfield  last  year?" 

"Yes,"  Hawkshaw  said.  "I  was  there." 

Maxey  told  me  about  the  vacation  business.  How  Hawk- 
shaw wouldn't  take  his  summer  vacation;  said  he  wanted 
two  weeks  in  April  instead.  He  wouldn't  tell  why.  Maxey 
said  April  was  too  busy  for  vacations,  and  Hawkshaw 
offered  to  work  until  then,  and  quit.  "Do  you  want  to  quit 
then?"  Maxey  said  that  was  in  the  summer,  after  Mrs 
Burchett  had  brought  Susan  Reed  to  the  shop  for  the  first 
time. 

"No,"  Hawkshaw  said.  "I  like  it  here.  I  just  want  two 
weeks  off  in  April." 


142  The  Village 

"On  business?"  Maxey  said. 

"On  business,"  Hawkshaw  said. 

When  Maxey  took  his  vacation,  he  went  to  Porterfield  to 
visit  his  brother-in-law;  maybe  shaving  his  brother-in-law's 
customers,  like  a  sailor  will  spend  his  vacation  in  a  rowboat 
on  an  artificial  lake.  The  brother-in-law  told  him  Hawkshaw 
had  worked  in  his  shop,  would  not  take  a  vacation  until 
April,  went  off  and  never  came  back.  "He'll  quit  you  the 
same  way,"  the  brother-in-law  said.  "He  worked  in  a  shop 
in  Bolivar,  Tennessee,  and  in  one  in  Florence,  Alabama,  for 
a  year  and  quit  the  same  way.  He  wont  come  back.  You 
watch  and  see." 

Maxey  said  he  came  back  home  and  he  finally  got  it  out 
of  Hawkshaw  how  he  had  worked  for  a  year  each  in  six  or 
eight  different  towns  in  Alabama  and  Tennessee  and  Missis- 
sippi. "Why  did  you  quit  them?"  Maxey  said.  "You  are  a 
good  barber;  one  of  the  best  children's  barbers  I  ever  saw. 
Why  did  you  quit?" 

"I  was  just  looking  around,"  Hawkshaw  said. 

Then  April  came,  and  he  took  his  two  weeks.  He  shaved 
himself  and  packed  up  that  paper  suitcase  and  took  the 
north-bound  train. 

"Going  on  a  visit,  I  reckon,"  Maxey  said. 

"Up  the  road  a  piece,"  Hawkshaw  said. 

So  he  went  away,  in  that  serge  suit  and  black  bow  tie. 
Maxey  told  me  how,  two  days  later,  it  got  out  how  Hawk- 
shaw had  drawn  from  the  bank  his  year's  savings.  He 
boarded  at  Mrs  Cowan's  and  he  had  joined  the  church  and 
he  spent  no  money  at  all.  He  didn't  even  smoke.  So  Maxey 
and  Matt  and  I  reckon  everybody  else  in  Jefferson  thought 
that  he  had  saved  up  steam  for  a  year  and  was  now  bound 
on  one  of  these  private  sabbaticals  among  the  fleshpots  of 
Memphis.  Mitch  Ewing,  the  depot  freight  agent,  lived  at 
Mrs  Cowan's  too.  He  told  how  Hawkshaw  had  bought  his 


Hair  143 

ticket  only  to  the  junction-point.  "From  there  he  can  go  to 
either  Memphis  or  Birmingham  or  New  Orleans,"  Mitch 
said. 

"Well,  he's  gone,  anyway,"  Maxey  said.  "And  mark  my 
words,  that's  the  last  you'll  see  of  that  fellow  in  this  town." 

And  that's  what  everybody  thought  until  two  weeks  later. 
On  the  fifteenth  day  Hawkshaw  came  walking  into  the  shop 
at  his  regular  time,  like  he  hadn't  even  been  out  of  town, 
and  took  off  his  coat  and  begun  to  hone  his  razors.  He  never 
told  anybody  where  he  had  been.  Just  up  the  road  a  piece. 

Sometimes  I  thought  I  would  tell  them.  I  would  make 
Jefferson  and  find  him  there  behind  that  chair.  He  didn't 
change,  grow  any  older  in  the  face,  any  more  than  that  Reed 
girl's  hair  changed,  for  all  the  gum  and  dye  she  put  on  it. 
But  there  he  would  be,  back  from  his  vacation  "up  the  road 
a  piece,"  saving  his  money  for  another  year,  going  to  church 
on  Sunday,  keeping  that  sack  of  peppermints  for  the  children 
that  came  to  him  to  be  barbered,  until  it  was  time  to  take 
that  paper  suitcase  and  his  year's  savings  and  go  back  to 
Division  to  pay  on  the  mortgage  and  clean  up  the  house. 

Sometimes  he  would  be  gone  when  I  got  to  Jefferson,  and 
Maxey  would  tell  me  about  him  cutting  that  Reed  girl's 
hair,  snipping  and  snipping  it  and  holding  the  mirror  up  for 
her  to  see  like  she  was  an  actress.  "He  dont  charge  her," 
Matt  Fox  said.  "He  pays  the  quarter  into  the  register  out  of 
his  own  pocket." 

"Well,  that's  his  business,"  Maxey  said.  "All  I  want  is  the 
quarter.  I  dont  care  where  it  comes  from." 

Five  years  later  maybe  I  would  have  said,  "Maybe  that's 
her  price."  Because  she  got  in  trouble  at  last.  Or  so  they 
said.  I  dont  know,  except  that  most  of  the  talk  about  girls, 
women,  is  envy  or  retaliation  by  the  ones  that  dont  dare  to 
and  the  ones  that  failed  to.  But  while  he  was  gone  one  April 


144  The  Village 

they  were  whispering  how  she  had  got  in  trouble  at  last 
and  had  tried  to  doctor  herself  with  turpentine  and  was  bad 
sick. 

Anyhow,  she  was  off  the  streets  for  about  three  months; 
some  said  in  a  hospital  in  Memphis,  and  when  she  came  into 
the  shop  again  she  took  Matt's  chair,  though  Hawkshaw's 
was  empty  at  the  time,  like  she  had  already  done  before  to 
devil  him,  maybe.  Maxey  said  she  looked  like  a  painted 
ghost,  gaunt  and  hard,  for  all  her  bright  dress  and  such, 
sitting  there  in  Matt's  chair,  filling  the  whole  shop  with  her 
talking  and  her  laughing  and  her  perfume  and  her  long, 
naked-looking  legs,  and  Hawkshaw  making  out  he  was  busy 
at  his  empty  chair. 

Sometimes  I  thought  I  would  tell  them.  But  I  never  told 
anybody  except  Gavin  Stevens.  He  is  the  district  attorney, 
a  smart  man:  not  like  the  usual  pedagogue  lawyer  and  office 
holder.  He  went  to  Harvard,  and  when  my  health  broke 
down  (I  used  to  be  a  bookkeeper  in  a  Gordonville  bank  and 
my  health  broke  down  and  I  met  Stevens  on  a  Memphis 
train  when  I  was  coming  home  from  the  hospital)  it  was 
him  that  suggested  I  try  the  road  and  got  me  my  position 
with  this  company.  I  told  him  about  it  two  years  ago.  "And 
now  the  girl  has  gone  bad  on  him,  and  he's  too  old  to  hunt 
up  another  one  and  raise  her,"  I  said.  "And  some  day  he'll 
have  the  place  paid  out  and  those  Alabama  Starnes  can  come 
and  take  it,  and  he'll  be  through.  Then  what  do  you  think 
he  will  do?" 

"I  dont  know,"  Stevens  said. 

"Maybe  he'll  just  go  off  and  die,"  I  said. 

"Maybe  he  will,"  Stevens  said. 

"Well,"  I  said,  "he  wont  be  the  first  man  to  tilt  at  wind- 
mills." 

"He  wont  be  the  first  man  to  die,  either,"  Stevens  said. 


Hair  145 

III 

So  LAST  WEEK  I  went  on  to  Division.  I  got  there  on  a 
Wednesday.  When  I  saw  the  house,  it  had  just  been  painted. 
The  storekeeper  told  me  that  the  payment  Hawkshaw  had 
made  was  the  last  one;  that  Starnes'  mortgage  was  clear. 
"Them  Alabama  Starnes  can  come  and  take  it  now,"  he  said. 

"Anyway,  Hawkshaw  did  what  he  promised  her,  prom- 
ised  Mrs  Starnes,"  I  said. 

"Hawkshaw?"  he  said.  "Is  that  what  they  call  him?  Well, 
I'll  be  durned.  Hawkshaw.  Well,  I'll  be  durned." 

It  was  three  months  before  I  made  Jefferson  again.  When 
I  passed  the  barber  shop  I  looked  in  without  stopping.  And 
there  was  another  fellow  behind  Hawkshaw's  chair,  a  young 
fellow.  "I  wonder  if  Hawk  left  his  sack  of  peppermints,"  I 
said  to  myself.  But  I  didn't  stop.  I  just  thought,  'Well,  he's 
gone  at  last/  wondering  just  where  he  would  be  when  old 
age  got  him  and  he  couldn't  move  again;  if  he  would  prob- 
ably die  behind  a  chair  somewhere  in  a  little  three-chair 
country  shop,  in  his  shirt  sleeves  and  that  black  tie  and  those 
serge  pants. 

I  went  on  and  saw  my  customers  and  had  dinner,  and  in 
the  afternoon  I  went  to  Stevens'  office.  "I  see  you've  got  a 
new  barber  in  town,"  I  said. 

"Yes,"  Stevens  said.  He  looked  at  me  a  while,  then  he  said, 
"You  haven't  heard?" 

"Heard  what?"  I  said.  Then  he  quit  looking  at  me. 

"I  got  your  letter,"  he  said,  "that  Hawkshaw  had  paid  off 
the  mortgage  and  painted  the  house.  Tell  me  about  it." 

So  I  told  him  how  I  got  to  Division  the  day  after  Hawk- 
shaw had  left.  They  were  talking  about  him  on  the  porch 
of  the  store,  wondering  just  when  those  Alabama  Starnes 
would  come  in.  He  had  painted  the  house  himself,  and  he 
had  cleaned  up  the  two  graves;  I  dont  reckon  he  wanted  to 


146  The  Village 

disturb  Starnes  by  cleaning  his.  I  went  up  to  see  them.  He 
had  even  scrubbed  the  headstones,  and  he  had  set  out  an 
apple  shoot  over  the  girl's  grave.  It  was  in  bloom,  and  what 
with  the  folks  all  talking  about  him,  I  got  curious  too,  to 
see  the  inside  of  that  house.  The  storekeeper  had  the  key, 
and  he  said  he  reckoned  it  would  be  all  right  with  Hawk- 
shaw. 

It  was  clean  inside  as  a  hospital.  The  stove  was  polished 
and  the  woodbox  filled.  The  storekeeper  told  me  Hawkshaw 
did  that  every  year,  filled  the  woodbox  before  he  left. 
"Those  Alabama  kinsfolk  will  appreciate  that,"  I  said.  We 
went  on  back  to  the  parlor.  There  was  a  melodeon  in  the 
corner,  and  a  lamp  and  a  Bible  on  the  table.  The  lamp  was 
clean,  the  bowl  empty  and  clean  too;  you  couldn't  even 
smell  oil  on  it.  That  wedding  license  was  framed,  hanging 
above  the  mantel  like  a  picture.  It  was  dated  April  4,  1905. 

"Here's  where  he  keeps  that  mortgage  record,"  the  store- 
keeper (his  name  is  Bidwell)  said.  He  went  to  the  table  and 
opened  the  Bible.  The  front  page  was  the  births  and  deaths, 
two  columns.  The  girl's  name  was  Sophie.  I  found  her  name 
in  the  birth  column,  and  on  the  death  side  it  was  next  to  the 
last  one.  Mrs  Starnes  had  written  it.  It  looked  like  it  might 
have  taken  her  ten  minutes  to  write  it  down.  It  looked  like 
this: 

Sofy  starnes  Dide  april  16  th  1905 

Hawkshaw  wrote  the  last  one  himself;  it  was  neat  and 
well  written,  like  a  bookkeeper's  hand: 

Mrs  Will  Starnes.  April  23,  1916. 

"The  record  will  be  in  the  back,"  Bidwell  said. 

We  turned  to  the  back.  It  was  there,  in  a  neat  column,  in 
Hawkshaw's  hand.  It  began  with  April  16,  1917,  $200.00. 
The  next  one  was  when  he  made  the  next  payment  at  the 


Hair  147 

bank:  April  16,  1918,  $200.00;  and  April  16,  1919,  $200.00; 
and  April  16,  1920,  $200.00;  and  on  to  the  last  one:  April 
1 6,  1930,  $200.00.  Then  he  had  totaled  the  column  and 
written  under  it: 

"Paid  in  full.  April  16,  1930." 

It  looked  like  a  sentence  written  in  a  copy  book  in  the  old- 
time  business  colleges,  like  it  had  flourished,  the  pen  had,  in 
spite  of  him.  It  didn't  look  like  it  was  written  boastful;  it 
just  flourished  somehow,  the  end  of  it,  like  it  had  run  out 
of  the  pen  somehow  before  he  could  stop  it. 

"So  he  did  what  he  promised  her  he  would,"  Stevens  said. 

"That's  what  I  told  Bidwell,"  I  said. 

Stevens  went  on  like  he  wasn't  listening  to  me  much. 

"So  the  old  lady  could  rest  quiet.  I  guess  that's  what  the 
pen  was  trying  to  say  when  it  ran  away  from  him:  that 
now  she  could  lie  quiet.  And  he's  not  much  over  forty-five. 
Not  so  much  anyway.  Not  so  much  but  what,  when  he  wrote 
'Paid  in  full'  under  that  column,  time  and  despair  rushed  as 
slow  and  dark  under  him  as  under  any  garlanded  boy  or 
crownless  and  crestless  girl." 

"Only  the  girl  went  bad  on  him,"  I  said.  "Forty-five's 
pretty  late  to  set  out  to  find  another.  He'll  be  fifty-five  at 
least  by  then." 

Stevens  looked  at  me  then.  "I  didn't  think  you  had  heard," 
he  said. 

"Yes,"  I  said.  "That  is,  I  looked  in  the  barber  shop  when 
I  passed.  But  I  knew  he  would  be  gone.  I  knew  all  the  time 
he  would  move  on,  once  he  had  that  mortgage  cleared. 
Maybe  he  never  knew  about  the  girl,  anyway.  Or  likely  he 
knew  and  didn't  care." 

"You  think  he  didn't  know  about  her?" 

"I  dont  see  how  he  could  have  helped  it.  But  I  dont  know. 
What  do  you  think?" 


148  The  Village 

"I  dont  know.  I  dont  think  I  want  to  know.  I  know  some- 
thing so  much  better  than  that." 

"What's  that?"  I  said.  He  was  looking  at  me.  "You  keep 
on  telling  me  I  haven't  heard  the  news.  What  is  it  I  haven't 
heard?" 

"About  the  girl,"  Stevens  said.  He  looked  at  me. 

"On  the  night  Hawkshaw  came  back  from  his  last  vaca- 
tion, they  were  married.  He  took  her  with  him  this  time." 


Centaur  in  Brass 


IN  OUR  TOWN  Flem  Snopes  now  has  a  monument  to  himselfv 
a  monument  of  brass,  none  the  less  enduring  for  the  fact  that, 
though  it  is  constantly  in  sight  of  the  whole  town  and  visible 
from  three  or  four  points  miles  out  in  the  country,  only  four 
people,  two  white  men  and  two  Negroes,  know  that  it  is  his 
monument,  or  that  it  is  a  monument  at  all. 

He  came  to  Jefferson  from  the  country,  accompanied  by 
his  wife  and  infant  daughter  and  preceded  by  a  reputation  for 
shrewd  and  secret  dealing.  There  lives  in  our  county  a  sew- 
ing-machine agent  riamed  Suratt,  who  used  to  own  a  half 
interest  in  a  small  back-street  restaurant  in  town — himself 
no  mean  hand  at  that  technically  unassailable  opportunism 
which  passes  with  country  folks — and  town  folks,  too — for 
honest  shrewdness. 

He  travels  about  the  county  steadily  and  constantly,  and 
it  was  through  him  that  Snope's  doings  first  came  to  our  ears: 
how  first,  a  clerk  in  a  country  store,  Snopes  one  day  and  to 
everyone's  astonishment  was  married  to  the  store  owner's 
daughter,  a  young  girl  who  was  the  belle  of  the  countryside. 
They  were  married  suddenly,  on  the  same  day  upon  which 
three  of  the  girl's  erstwhile  suitors  left  the  county  and  were 
seen  no  more. 

Soon  after  the  wedding  Snopes  and  his  wife  moved  to 
Texas,  from  where  the  wif e  returned  a  year  later  with  a  well- 

149 


150  The  Village 

grown  baby.  A  month  later  Snopes  himself  returned,  ac- 
companied by  a  broad-hatted  stranger  and  a  herd  of  half- 
wild  mustang  ponies,  which  the  stranger  auctioned  off, 
collected  the  money,  and  departed.  Then  the  purchasers  dis- 
covered that  none  of  the  ponies  had  ever  had  a  bridle  on.  But 
they  never  learned  if  Snopes  had  had  any  part  in  the  business, 
or  had  received  any  part  of  the  money. 

The  next  we  heard  of  him  was  when  he  appeared  one  day 
in  a  wagon  laden  with  his  family  and  household  goods,  and 
with  a  bill-of-sale  for  Suratt's  half  of  the  restaurant.  How  he 
got  the  bill-of-sale,  Suratt  never  told,  and  we  never  learned 
more  than  that  there  was  somehow  involved  in  the  affair  a 
worthless  piece  of  land  which  had  been  a  portion  of  Mrs. 
Snopes's  dowry.  But  what  the  business  was  even  Suratt,  a 
humorous,  talkative  man  who  was  as  ready  to  laugh  at  a  joke 
on  himself  as  at  one  on  anyone  else,  never  told.  But  when  he 
mentioned  Snopes's  name  after  that,  it  was  in  a  tone  of  sav- 
age and  sardonic  and  ungrudging  admiration. 

"Yes,  sir,"  he  said,  "Flem  Snopes  outsmarted  me.  And  the 
man  that  can  do  that,  I  just  wish  I  was  Jiim,  with  this  whole 
State  of  Mississippi  to  graze  on." 

In  the  restaurant  business  Snopes  appeared  to  prosper. 
That  is,  he  soon  eliminated  his  partner,  and  presently  he  was 
out  of  the  restaurant  himself,  with  a  hired  manager  to  run  it, 
and  we  began  to  believe  in  the  town  that  we  knew  what  was 
the  mainspring  of  his  rise  and  luck.  We  believed  that  it  was 
his  wife;  we  accepted  without  demur  the  evil  which  such 
little  lost  towns  like  ours  seem  to  foist  even  upon  men  who 
are  of  good  thinking  despite  them.  She  helped  in  the  restau- 
rant at  first.  We  could  see  her  there  behind  the  wooden 
counter  worn  glass-smooth  by  elbows  in  their  eating  genera- 
tions: young,  with  the  rich  coloring  of  a  calendar;  a  face 
smooth,  unblemished  by  any  thought  or  by  anything  else: 
an  appeal  immediate  and  profound  and  without  calculation 


Centaur  in  Brass  1 5 1 

or  shame,  with  (because  of  its  unblemishment  and  not  its 
size)  something  of  that  vast,  serene,  impervious  beauty  of  a 
snowclad  virgin  mountain  flank,  listening  and  not  smiling 
while  Major  Hoxey,  the  town's  lone  rich  middle-aged  bach- 
elor, graduate  of  Yale  and  soon  to  be  mayor  of  the  town,  in- 
congruous there  among  the  collarless  shirts  and  the  overalls 
and  the  grave,  country-eating  faces,  sipped  his  coffee  and 
talked  to  her. 

Not  impregnable:  impervious.  That  was  why  it  did  not 
need  gossip  when  we  watched  Snopes's  career  mount  beyond 
the  restaurant  and  become  complement  with  Major  Hoxey 's 
in  city  affairs,  until  less  than  six  months  after  Hoxey's  inau- 
guration Snopes,  who  had  probably  never  been  close  to  any 
piece  of  machinery  save  a  grindstone  until  he  moved  to  town, 
was  made  superintendent  of  the  municipal  power  plant.  Mrs. 
Snopes  was  born  one  of  those  women  the  deeds  and  fortunes 
of  whose  husbands  alone  are  the  barometers  of  their  good 
name;  for  to  do  her  justice,  there  was  no  other  handle  for 
gossip  save  her  husband's  rise  in  Hoxey's  administration. 

But  there  was  still  that  intangible  thing:  partly  something 
in  her  air,  her  face;  partly  what  we  had  already  heard  about 
Flem  Snopes's  methods.  Or  perhaps  what  we  knew  or  be- 
lieved about  Snopes  was  all;  perhaps  what  we  thought  to  be 
her  shadow  was  merely  his  shadow  falling  upon  her.  But 
anyway,  when  we  saw  Snopes  and  Hoxey  together  we  would 
think  of  them  and  of  adultery  in  the  same  instant,  and  we 
would  think  of  the  two  of  them  walking  and  talking  in  ami- 
cable cuckoldry.  Perhaps,  as  I  said,  this  was  the  fault  of  the 
town.  Certainly  it  was  the  fault  of  the  town  that  the  idea  of 
their  being  on  amicable  terms  outraged  us  more  than  the  idea 
of  the  adultery  itself.  It  seemed  foreign,  decadent,  perverted: 
we  could  have  accepted,  if  not  condoned,  the  adultery  had 
they  only  been  natural  and  logical  and  enemies. 

But  they  were  not.  Yet  neither  could  they  have  been  called 


152  The  Village 

friends.  Snopes  had  no  friends;  there  was  no  man  nor  woman 
among  us,  not  even  Hoxey  or  Mrs.  Snopes,  who  we  believed 
could  say,  "I  know  his  thought" — least  of  all,  those  among 
whom  we  saw  him  now  and  then,  sitting  about  the  stove  in 
the  rear  of  a  certain  smelly,  third-rate  grocery,  listening  and 
not  talking,  for  an  hour  or  so  two  or  three  nights  a  week. 
And  so  we  believed  that,  whatever  his  wife  was,  she  was  not 
fooling  him.  It  was  another  woman  who  did  that:  a  Negro 
woman,  the  new  young  wife  of  Tom-Tom,  the  day  fireman 
in  the  power  plant. 

Tom-Tom  was  black:  a  big  bull  of  a  man  weighing  two 
hundred  pounds  and  sixty  years  old  and  looking  about  forty. 
He  had  been  married  about  a  year  to  his  third  wife,  a  young 
woman  whom  he  kept  with  the  strictness  of  a  Turk  in  a 
cabin  two  miles  from  town  and  from  the  power  plant  where 
he  spent  twelve  hours  a  day  with  shovel  and  bar. 

One  afternoon  he  had  just  finished  cleaning  the  fires  and 
he  was  sitting  in  the  coal-bunker,  resting  and  smoking  his 
pipe,  when  Snopes,  his  superintendent,  employer  and  boss, 
came  in.  The  fires  were  clean  and  the  steam  was  up  again, 
and  the  safety  valve  on  the  middle  boiler  was  blowing  off. 

Snopes  entered:  a  potty  man  of  no  particular  age,  broad 
and  squat,  in  a  clean  though  collarless  white  shirt  and  a  plaid 
cap.  His  face  was  round  and  smooth,  either  absolutely  impen- 
etrable or  absolutely  empty.  His  eyes  were  the  color  of  stag- 
nant water;  his  mouth  was  a  tight,  lipless  seam.  Chewing 
steadily,  he  looked  up  at  the  whistling  safety  valve. 

"How  much  does  that  whistle  weigh?"  he  said  after  a  time. 

"Must  weight  ten  pound,  anyway,"  Tom-Tom  said. 

"Is  it  solid  brass?" 

"If  it  ain't,  I  ain't  never  seed  no  brass  what  is  solid,"  Tom- 
Tom  said. 

Snopes  had  not  once  looked  at  Tom-Tom.  He  continued 
to  look  upward  toward  the  thin,  shrill,  excruciating  sound  of 
the  valve.  Then  he  spat,  and  turned  and  left  the  boiler-room. 


Centaur  in  Brass  153 

II 

HE  BUILT  HIS  monument  slowly.  But  then,  it  is  always  strange 
to  what  involved  and  complex  methods  a  man  will  resort  in 
order  to  steal  something.  It's  as  though  there  were  some  in- 
tangible and  invisible  social  force  that  mitigates  against  him, 
confounding  his  own  shrewdness  with  his  own  cunning,  dis- 
torting in  his  judgment  the  very  value  of  the  object  of  his 
greed,  which  in  all  probability,  had  he  but  picked  it  up  and 
carried  it  openly  away,  nobody  would  have  remarked  or 
cared.  But  then,  that  would  not  have  suited  Snopes,  since  he 
apparently  had  neither  the  high  vision  of  a  confidence  man 
nor  the  unrecking  courage  of  a  brigand. 

His  vision  at  first,  his  aim,  was  not  even  that  high;  it  was 
no  higher  than  that  of  a  casual  rramp  who  pauses  in  passing 
to  steal  three  eggs  from  beneath  a  setting  hen.  Or  perhaps  he 
was  merely  not  certain  yet  that  there  really  was  a  market  for 
brass.  Because  his  next  move  was  five  months  after  Harker, 
the  night  engineer,  came  on  duty  one  evening  and  found  the 
three  safety  whistles  gone  and  the  vents  stopped  with  one- 
inch  steel  screw  plugs  capable  of  a  pressure  of  a  thousand 
pounds. 

"And  them  three  boiler  heads  you  could  poke  a  hole 
through  with  a  soda  straw!"  Harker  said.  "And  that  damn 
black  night  fireman,  Turl,  that  couldn't  even  read  a  clock 
face,  still  throwing  coal  into  them!  When  I  looked  at  the 
gauge  on  the  first  boiler,  I  never  believed  I  would  get  to  the 
last  boiler  in  time  to  even  reach  the  injector. 

"So  when  I  finally  got  it  into  Turl's  head  that  that  100  on 
that  dial  meant  where  Turl  would  not  only  lose  his  job,  he 
would  lose  it  so  good  they  wouldn't  even  be  able  to  find  the 
job  to  give  it  to  the  next  misbegotten  that  believed  that  live 
steam  was  something  you  blowed  on  a  window  pane  in  cold 
weather,  I  got  settled  down  enough  to  ask  him  where  them 
safety  valves  had  gone  to. 


The 

"  'Mr.  Snopes  took  urn  off,'  Turl  says. 

"'What  in  the  hell  for?' 

"  'I  don't  know.  I  just  telling  you  what  Tom-Tom  told  me. 
He  say  Mr.  Snopes  say  the  shut-off  float  in  the  water  tank 
ain't  heavy  enough.  Say  that  tank  start  leaking  some  day,  and 
so  he  going  to  fasten  them  three  safety  valves  on  the  float 
and  make  it  heavier.' 

"  'You  mean — '  I  says.  That's  as  far  as  I  could  get:  'You 
mean ' 

"  'That  what  Tom-Tom  say.  I  don't  know  nothing  about 
it.' 

"But  they  were  gone.  Up  to  that  night,  me  and  Turl  had 
been  catching  forty  winks  or  so  now  and  then  when  we  got 
caught  up  and  things  was  quiet.  But  you  can  bet  we  never 
slept  none  that  night.  Me  and  him  spent  that  whole  night, 
time  about,  on  that  coal  pile,  where  we  could  watch  them 
three  gauges.  And  from  midnight  on,  after  the  load  went  oflf , 
we  never  had  enough  steam  in  all  three  of  them  boilers  put 
together  to  run  a  peanut  parcher.  And  even  when  I  was  in 
bed,  at  home,  I  couldn't  sleep.  Time  I  shut  my  eyes  I  would 
begin  to  see  a  steam  gauge  about  the  size  of  a  washtub,  with 
a  red  needle  big  as  a  shovel  moving  up  toward  a  hundred 
pounds,  and  I  would  wake  myself  up  hollering  and 
sweating." 

But  even  that  wore  away  after  a  while,  and  then  Turl  and 
Harker  were  catching  their  forty  winks  or  so  again.  Perhaps 
they  decided  that  Snopes  had  stolen  his  three  eggs  and  was 
done.  Perhaps  they  decided  that  he  had  frightened  himself 
with  the  ease  with  which  he  had  got  the  eggs.  Because  it  was 
five  months  before  the  next  act  took  place. 

Then  one  afternoon,  with  his  fires  cleaned  and  steam  up 
again,  Tom-Tom,  smoking  his  pipe  on  the  coal  pile,  saw 
Snopes  enter,  carrying  in  his  hand  an  object  which  Tom- 
Tom  said  later  he  thought  was  a  mule  shoe.  He  watched 


Centaur  in  Brass  155 

Snopes  retire  into  a  dim  corner  behind  the  boilers,  where 
there  had  accumulated  a  miscellaneous  pile  of  metal  junk,  all 
covered  with  dirt:  fittings,  valves,  rods  and  bolts  and  such, 
and,  kneeling  there,  begin  to  sort  the  pieces,  touching  them 
one  by  one  with  the  mule  shoe  and  from  time  to  time  remov- 
ing one  piece  and  tossing  it  behind  him,  into  the  runway. 
Tom-Tom  watched  him  try  with  the  magnet  every  loose 
piece  of  metal  in  the  boiler-room,  sorting  out  the  iron  from 
the  brass:  then  Snopes  ordered  Tom-Tom  to  gather  up  the 
segregated  pieces  of  brass  and  bring  them  in  to  his  office. 

Tom-Tom  gathered  the  pieces  into  a  box.  Snopes  was 
waiting  in  the  office.  He  glanced  once  into  the  box,  then  he 
spat.  "How  do  you  and  Turl  get  along?"  he  said.  Turl,  I  had 
better  repeat,  was  the  night  fireman;  a  Negro  too,  though  he 
was  saddle-colored  where  Tom-Tom  was  black,  and  in  place 
of  Tom-Tom's  two  hundred  pounds  Turl,  even  with  his 
laden  shovel,  would  hardly  have  tipped  a  hundred  and  fifty. 

"I  tends  to  my  business,"  Tom-Tom  said.  "What  Turl 
does  wid  hisn  ain't  no  trouble  of  mine." 

"That  ain't  what  Turl  thinks,"  Snopes  said,  chewing, 
watching  Tom-Tom,  who  looked  at  Snopes  as  steadily  in 
turn;  looked  down  at  him.  "Turl  wants  me  to  give  him  your 
day  shift.  He  says  he's  tired  firing  at  night." 

"Let  him  fire  here  long  as  I  is,  and  he  can  have  it,"  Tom- 
Torn  said. 

"Turl  don't  want  to  wait  that  long,"  Snopes  said,  chewing, 
watching  Tom-Tom's  face.  Then  he  told  Tom-Tom  how 
Turl  was  planning  to  steal  some  iron  from  the  plant  and  lay 
it  at  Tom-Tom's  door  and  so  get  Tom-Tom  fired.  And 
Tom-Tom  stood  there,  huge,  hulking,  with  his  hard  round 
little  head.  "That's  what  he's  up  to,"  Snopes  said.  "So  I  want 
you  to  take  this  stuff  out  to  your  house  and  hide  it  where 
Turl  can't  find  it.  And  as  soon  as  I  get  enough  evidence  on 
Turl,  I'm  going  to  fire  him." 


1 56  The  Village 

Tom-Tom  waited  until  Snopes  had  finished,  blinking  his 
eyes  slowly.  Then  he  said  immediately:  "I  knows  a  better 
way  than  that/' 

"What  way?"  Snopes  said.  Tom-Tom  didn't  answer.  He 
stood,  big,  humorless,  a  little  surly;  quiet;  more  than  a  little 
implacable  though  heatless.  "No,  no,"  Snopes  said.  "That 
won't  do.  You  have  any  trouble  with  Turl,  and  I'll  fire  you 
both.  You  do  like  I  say,  unless  you  are  tired  of  your  job  and 
want  Turl  to  have  it.  Are  you  tired  of  it?" 

"Ain't  no  man  complained  about  my  pressure  yet,"  Tom- 
Tom  said  sullenly. 

"Then  you  do  like  I  say.  Yovi  take  that  stuff  out  home  with 
you  tonight.  Don't  let  nobody  see  you;  not  even  your  wife. 
And  if  you  don't  want  to  do  it,  just  say  so.  I  reckon  I  can  get 
somebody  that  will  do  it." 

And  that's  what  Tom-Tom  did.  And  he  kept  his  own 
counsel  too,  even  when  afterward,  as  discarded  fittings  and 
such  accumulated  again,  he  would  watch  Snopes  test  them 
one  by  one  with  the  magnet  and  sort  him  out  another  batch 
to  take  out  home  and  hide.  Because  he  had  been  firing  those 
boilers  for  forty  years,  ever  since  he  was  a  man.  At  that  time 
there  was  but  one  boiler,  and  he  had  got  twelve  dollars  a 
month  for  firing  it,  but  now  there  were  three,  and  he  got 
sixty  dollars  a  month;  and  now  he  was  sixty,  and  he  owned 
his  little  cabin  and  a  little  piece  of  corn,  and  a  mule  and  a 
wagon  in  which  he  rode  into  town  to  church  twice  each  Sun- 
day, with  his  new  young  wife  beside  him  and  a  gold  watch 
and  chain. 

And  Marker  didn't  know  then,  either,  even  though  he 
would  watch  the  junked  metal  accumulate  in  the  corner  and 
then  disappear  over  night  until  it  came  to  be  his  nightly  joke 
to  enter  with  his  busy,  bustling  air  and  say  to  Turl:  "Well, 
Turl,  I  notice  that  little  engine  is  still  running.  There's  a  right 
smart  of  brass  in  them  bushings  and  wrist  pins,  but  I  reckon 


Centaur  in  Brass  157 

it's  moving  too  fast  to  hold  that  magnet  against  it."  Then 
more  soberly;  quite  soberly,  in  fact,  without  humor  or  irony 
at  all,  since  there  was  some  of  Suratt  in  Harker  too:  "That 
durn  fellow!  I  reckon  he'd  sell  the  boilers  too,  if  he  knowed 
of  any  way  you  and  Tom-Tom  could  keep  steam  up  without 
them." 

And  Turl  didn't  answer.  Because  by  that  time  Turl  had 
his  own  private  temptations  and  worries,  the  same  as  Tom- 
Tom,  of  which  Harker  was  also  unaware. 

In  the  meantime,  the  first  of  the  year  came  and  the  city 
was  audited. 

"They  come  down  here,"  Harker  said,  "two  of  them,  in 
glasses.  They  went  over  the  books  and  they  poked  around 
everywhere,  counting  everything  in  sight  and  writing  it 
down.  Then  they  went  back  to  the  office  and  they  was  still 
there  at  six  o'clock  when  I  come  on.  It  seems  that  there  was 
something  wrong;  it  seems  like  there  was  some  old  brass  parts 
wrote  down  in  the  books,  only  the  brass  seemed  to  be  miss- 
ing or  something.  It  was  on  the  books  all  right,  and  the  new 
valves  and  things  it  had  been  replaced  with  was  there.  But  be 
durn  if  they  could  find  a  one  of  them  old  pieces  except  one 
busted  bib  that  had  got  mislaid  under  the  work-bench  some- 
way or  other.  It  was  right  strange.  So  I  went  back  with  them 
and  held  the  light  while  they  looked  again  in  all  the  corners, 
getting  a  right  smart  of  soot  and  grease  on  them,  but  that 
brass  just  naturally  seemed  to  be  plumb  missing.  So  they 
went  away. 

"And  the  next  morning  early  they  come  back.  They  had 
the  city  clerk  with  them  this  time  and  they  beat  Mr.  Snopes 
down  here  and  so  they  had  to  wait  till  he  come  in  in  his  check 
cap  and  his  chew,  chewing  and  looking  at  them  while  they 
told  him.  They  was  right  sorry;  they  hemmed  and  hawed  a 
right  smart,  being  sorry.  But  it  wasn't  nothing  else  they  could 
do  except  to  come  back  on  him,  long  as  he  was  the  superin- 


158  The  Village 

tendent;  and  did  he  want  me  and  Turl  and  Tom-Tom 
arrested  right  now,  or  would  tomorrow  do?  And  him  stand- 
ing there,  chewing,  with  them  eyes  like  two  gobs  of  cup 
grease  on  a  hunk  of  raw  dough,  and  them  still  telling  him 
how  sorry  they  was. 

"  'How  much  does  it  come  to?'  he  says. 

"  'Three  hundred  and  four  dollars  and  fifty-two  cents,  Mr. 
Snopes.' 

"  'Is  that  the  full  amount?' 

"  'We  checked  our  figures  twice,  Mr.  Snopes.' 

"  'All  right,'  he  says.  And  he  reaches  down  and  hauls  out 
the  money  and  pays  them  the  three  hundred  and  four  dollars 
and  fifty-two  cents  in  cash,  and  asks  for  a  receipt." 

Ill 

THEN  THE  NEXT  Summer  came,  with  Harker  still  laughing  at 
and  enjoying  what  he  saw,  and  seeing  so  little,  thinking  how 
they  were  all  fooling  one  another  while  he  looked  on,  when 
it  was  him  who  was  being  fooled.  For  in  that  Summer  the 
thing  ripened,  came  to  a  head.  Or  maybe  Snopes  just  decided 
to  cut  his  first  hay  crop;  clean  the  meadow  for  reseeding.  Be- 
cause he  could  never  have  believed  that  on  the  day  when  he 
sent  for  Turl,  he  had  set  the  capital  on  his  monument  and 
had  started  to  tear  the  scaffolding  down. 

It  was  in  the  evening;  he  returned  to  the  plant  after  supper 
and  sent  for  Turl;  again  two  of  them,  white  man  and  Negro, 
faced  one  another  in  the  office. 

"What's  this  about  you  and  Tom-Tom?"  Snopes  said. 

"  'Bout  me  and  which?"  Turl  said.  "If  Tom-Tom  depend- 
ing on  me  for  his  trouble,  he  sho'  done  quit  being  a  fireman 
and  turned  waiter.  It  take  two  folks  to  have  trouble,  and 
Tom-Tom  ain't  but  one,  I  don't  care  how  big  he  is." 


Centaur  in  Brass  159 

Snopes  watched  Turl.  "Tom-Tom  thinks  you  want  to  fire 
the  day  shift." 

Turl  looked  down.  He  looked  briefly  at  Snopes's  face;  at 
the  still  eyes,  the  slow  unceasing  jaw,  and  down  again.  "I 
can  handle  as  much  coal  as  Tom-Tom,"  he  said. 

Snopes  watched  him:  the  smooth,  brown,  aside-looking 
face.  "Tom-Tom  knows  that,  too.  He  knows  he's  getting 
old.  But  he  knows  there  ain't  nobody  else  can  crowd  him  but 
you."  Then,  watching  Turl's  face,  Snopes  told  him  how  for 
two  years  Tom-Tom  had  been  stealing  brass  from  the  plant, 
in  order  to  lay  it  on  Turl  and  get  him  fired;  how  only  that 
day  Tom-Tom  had  told  him  that  Turl  was  the  thief. 

Turl  looked  up.  "That's  a  lie,"  he  said.  "Can't  no  nigger 
accuse  me  of  stealing  when  I  ain't,  I  don't  care  how  big  he 
is." 

"Sho',"  Snopes  said.  "So  the  thing  to  do  is  to  get  that  brass 
back." 

"If  Tom-Tom  got  it,  I  reckon  Mr.  Buck  Conner  the  man 
to  get  it  back,"  Turl  said.  Buck  Conner  was  the  city  marshal. 

"Then  you'll  go  to  jail,  sure  enough.  Tom-Tom'll  say  he 
didn't  know  it  was  there.  You'll  be  the  only  one  that  knew 
it  was  there.  So  what  you  reckon  Buck  Conner'll  think? 
You'll  be  the  one  that  knew  where  it  was  hid  at,  and  Buck 
Conner'll  know  that  even  a  fool  has  got  more  sense  than  to 
steal  something  and  hide  it  in  his  corn-crib.  The  only  thing 
you  can  do  is  to  get  that  brass  back.  Go  out  there  in  the 
daytime,  while  Tom-Tom  is  at  work,  and  get  it  and  bring  it 
to  me  and  I'll  put  it  away  somewhere  to  use  as  evidence  on 
Tom-Tom.  Unless  maybe  you  don't  want  that  day  shift.  Just 
say  so,  if  you  don't.  I  reckon  I  can  find  somebody  else  that 
does." 

And  Turl  agreed  to  do  that.  He  hadn't  fired  any  boilers 
for  forty  years.  He  hadn't  done  anything  at  all  for  as  long  as 
forty  years,  since  he  was  just  past  thirty.  But  even  if  he  v/ere 


160  The  Village 

a  hundred,  no  man  could  ever  accuse  him  of  having  done 
anything  that  would  aggregate  forty  years  net.  "Unless 
Turl's  night  prowling  might  add  up  that  much,"  Harker  said. 
"If  Turl  ever  gets  married,  he  wan't  need  no  front  door 
a-tall;  he  wouldn't  know  what  it  was  for.  If  he  couldn't  come 
tom-catting  in  through  the  back  window,  he  wouldn't  know 
what  he  come  after.  Would  you,  Turl?" 

So  from  here  on  it  is  simple  enough,  since  a  man's  mistakes, 
like  his  successes,  usually  are  simple.  Particularly  the  success. 
Perhaps  that's  why  it  is  so  often  missed:  it  was  just  over- 
looked. 

"His  mistake  was  in  picking  out  Turl  to  pull  his  chestnuts," 
Harker  said.  "But  even  Turl  wasn't  as  bad  as  the  second  mis- 
take he  made  at  the  same  time  without  knowing  it.  And  that 
was,  when  he  forgot  about  that  high  yellow  wife  of  Tom- 
Tom's.  When  I  found  out  how  he  had  picked  out  Turl,  out 
of  all  the  niggers  in  Jefferson,  that's  prowled  at  least  once 
(or  tried  to)  every  gal  within  ten  miles  of  town,  to  go  out  to 
Tom-Tom's  house  knowing  all  the  time  how  Tom-Tom 
would  be  down  here  wrastling  coal  until  seven  o'clock  and 
then  have  two  miles  to  walk  home,  and  expect  Turl  to  spend 
his  time  out  there  hunting  for  anything  that  ain't  hid  in  Tom- 
Tom's  bed,  and  when  I  would  think  about  Tom-Tom  down 
here,  wrastling  them  boilers  with  this  same  amical  cuckoldry 
like  the  fellow  said  about  Mr.  Snopes  and  Colonel  Hoxey> 
stealing  brass  so  he  can  keep  Turl  from  getting  his  job  away 
from  him,  and  Turl  out  yonder  tending  to  Tom-Tom's  home 
business  at  the  same  time,  sometimes  I  think  I  will  die. 

"It  was  bound  to  not  last.  The  question  was,  which  would 
happen  first:  if  Tom-Tom  would  catch  Turl,  or  if  Mr. 
Snopes  would  catch  Turl,  or  if  I  would  bust  a  blood  vessel 
laughing  some  night.  Well,  it  was  Turl.  He  seemed  to  be 
having  too  much  trouble  locating  that  brass;  he  had  been 
hunting  it  for  three  weeks  alreadv,  coming  in  a  little  late 


Centaur  in  Brass  161 

almost  every  night  now,  with  Tom-Tom  having  to  wait 
until  Turl  come  before  he  could  start  home.  Maybe  that  was 
it.  Or  maybe  Mr.  Snopes  was  out  there  himself  one  day,  hid 
in  the  bushes  too,  waiting  for  it  to  get  along  toward  dark  (it 
was  already  April  then);  him  on  one  side  of  Tom-Tom's 
house  and  Turl  creeping  up  through  the  corn  patch  on  the 
other.  Anyway,  he  come  back  down  here  one  night  and  he 
was  waiting  when  Turl  come  in  about  a  half  hour  late,  as 
usual,  and  Tom-Tom  all  ready  to  go  home  soon  as  Turl  got 
here.  Mr.  Snopes  sent  for  Turl  and  asked  him  if  he  had  found 
it. 

"  'Find  it  when?'  Turl  says. 

"  'While  you  was  out  there  hunting  for  it  about  dusk  to- 
night,' Mr.  Snopes  says.  And  there's  Turl,  wondering  just 
how  much  Mr.  Snopes  knows,  and  if  he  can  risk  saying  how 
he  has  been  at  home  in  bed  since  six-thirty  this  morning,  or 
maybe  up  to  Mottstown  on  business.  'Maybe  you  are  still 
looking  for  it  in  the  wrong  place,'  Mr.  Snopes  says,  watching 
Turl,  and  Turl  not  looking  at  Mr.  Snopes  except  maybe  now 
and  then.  'If  Tom-Tom  had  hid  that  iron  in  his  bed,  you 
ought  to  done  found  it  three  weeks  ago,'  Mr.  Snopes  says. 
'So  suppose  you  look  in  that  corn-crib  where  I  told  you  to 
look.' 

"So  Turl  went  out  to  look  one  more  time.  But  he  couldn't 
seem  to  find  it  in  the  corn-crib  neither.  Leastways,  that's 
what  he  told  Mr.  Snopes  when  Mr.  Snopes  finally  run  him 
down  back  here  about  nine  o'clock  one  night.  Turl  was  on  a 
kind  of  a  spot,  you  might  say.  He  would  have  to  wait  until 
along  toward  dark  to  go  up  to  the  house,  and  already  Tom- 
Tom  had  been  grumbling  some  about  how  Turl  was  getting 
later  and  later  about  coming  to  work  every  night.  And  once 
he  found  that  brass,  he  would  have  to  begin  getting  back  to 
the  plant  at  seven  o'clock,  and  the  days  getting  longer  all 
the  time. 


1 62  The  Village 

"So  Turl  goes  back  to  give  one  more  go-round  for  that 
brass  evidence.  But  still  he  can't  find  it.  He  must  have  looked 
under  every  shuck  and  thread  in  Tom-Tom's  bed  tick,  but 
without  no  more  success  than  them  two  audits  had.  He  just 
couldn't  seem  to  find  that  evidence  nohow.  So  then  Mr. 
Snopes  says  he  will  give  Turl  one  more  chance,  and  if  he 
don't  find  that  evidence  this  time,  Mr.  Snopes  is  going  to  tell 
Tom-Tom  how  there  is  a  strange  tom-cat  on  his  back  fence. 
And  whenever  a  nigger  husband  in  Jefferson  hears  that,  he 
finds  out  where  Turl  is  at  before  he  even  sharpens  his  razor: 
ain't  that  so,  Turl? 

"So  the  next  evening  Turl  goes  out  to  look  again.  To  do 
or  die  this  time.  He  comes  creeping  up  out  of  the  woods 
about  sundown,  the  best  time  of  day  for  brass  hunting,  spe- 
cially as  there  is  a  moon  that  night.  So  here  he  comes,  creep- 
ing up  through  the  corn  patch  to  the  back  porch,  where  the 
cot  is,  and  pretty  soon  he  can  make  out  somebody  in  a  white 
nightgown  laying  on  the  cot.  But  Turl  don't  rise  up  and  walk 
even  then;  that  ain't  Turl's  way.  Turl  plays  by  the  rules.  He 
creeps  up — it's  dust-dark  by  then,  and  the  moon  beginning 
to  shine  a  little — all  careful  and  quiet,  and  tom-cats  up  on  to 
the  back  porch  and  stoops  over  the  cot  and  puts  his  hand  on 
nekkid  meat  and  says,  'Honeybunch,  papa's  done  arrived.'  " 

IV 

IN  THE  VERY  QUIET  hearing  of  it  I  seemed  to  partake  for  the 
instant  of  Turl's  horrid  surprise.  Because  it  was  Tom-Tom 
on  the  cot;  Tom-Tom,  whom  Turl  believed  to  be  at  the  mo- 
ment two  miles  away,  waiting  for  Turl  to  come  and  take 
over  from  him  at  the  power  plant. 

The  night  before,  on  his  return  home  Tom-Tom  had 
brought  with  him  a  last  year's  watermelon  which  the  local 
butcher  had  kept  all  Winter  in  cold  storage  and  which  he 


Centaur  in  Brass  163 

had  given  to  Tom-Tom,  being  himself  afraid  to  eat  it,  and  a 
pint  of  whiskey.  Tom-Tom  and  his  wife  consumed  them  and 
went  to  bed,  where  an  hour  later  she  waked  Tom-Tom  by 
her  screaming.  She  was  violently  ill,  and  she  was  afraid  that 
she  was  dying.  She  was  too  frightened  to  let  Tom-Tom  go 
for  help,  and  while  he  dosed  her  as  he  could,  she  confessed  to 
him  about  herself  and  Turl.  As  soon  as  she  told  it  she  became 
easier  and  went  off  to  sleep,  either  before  she  had  time  to 
realize  the  enormity  of  what  she  had  done,  or  while  she  was 
still  too  occupied  in  being  alive  to  care. 

But  Tom-Tom  wasn't.  The  next  morning,  after  he  con- 
vinced himself  that  she  was  all  right,  he  reminded  her  of  it. 
She  wept  some,  and  tried  to  retract;  she  ran  the  gamut  of 
tears  to  anger,  through  denial  and  cajolery  back  to  tears 
again.  But  she  had  Tom-Tom's  face  to  look  at  all  the  while, 
and  so  after  a  time  she  hushed  and  she  just  lay  there,  watching 
him  as  he  went  methodically  about  cooking  breakfast,  her 
own  and  his,  saying  no  word,  apparently  oblivious  of  even 
her  presence.  Then  he  fed  her,  made  her  eat,  with  the  same 
detachment,  implacable  and  without  heat.  She  was  waiting 
for  him  to  leave  for  work;  she  was  doubtless  then  and  had 
been  all  the  while  inventing  and  discarding  practical  expe- 
dients; so  busy  that  it  was  mid-morning  before  she  realized 
that  he  had  no  intention  of  going  to  town,  though  she  did  not 
know  that  he  had  arranged  to  get  word  to  the  plant  by  seven 
that  morning  that  he  would  take  the  day  off. 

So  she  lay  there  in  the  bed,  quite  quiet,  her  eyes  a  little 
wide,  still  as  an  animal,  while  he  cooked  their  dinner  and  fed 
her  again  with  that  clumsy  and  implacable  care.  And  just 
before  sundown  he  locked  her  in  the  bedroom,  she  still  saying 
no  word,  not  asking  him  what  he  was  about,  just  watching 
with  her  quiet,  still  eyes  the  door  until  it  closed  and  the  key 
clicked.  Then  Tom-Tom  put  on  one  of  her  nightgowns  and 
with  a  naked  butcher  knife  beside  him,  he  lay  down  on  the 


1 64  The  Village 

cot  on  the  back  porch.  And  there  he  was,  without  having 
moved  for  almost  an  hour,  when  Turl  crept  on  to  the  porch 
and  touched  him. 

In  the  purely  reflex  action  of  Turl's  turning  to  flee,  Tom- 
Tom  rose,  clutching  the  knife,  and  sprang  at  Turl.  He  leaped 
astride  of  TurPs  neck  and  shoulders;  his  weight  was  the  impe- 
tus which  sent  Turl  off  the  porch,  already  running  when 
his  feet  touched  earth,  carrying  with  him  on  the  retina  of  his 
fear  a  single  dreadful  glint  of  moonlight  on  the  blade  of  the 
lifted  knife,  as  he  crossed  the  back  lot  and,  with  Tom-Tom 
on  his  back,  entered  the  trees — the  two  of  them  a  strange 
and  furious  beast  with  two  heads  and  a  single  pair  of  legs  like 
an  inverted  centaur  speeding  phantomlike  just  ahead  of  the 
boardlike  streaming  of  Tom-Tom's  shirt-tail  and  just  beneath 
the  silver  glint  of  the  lifted  knife,  through  the  moony  April 
woods. 

"Tom-Tom  big  buck  man,"  Turl  said.  "Make  three  of  me. 
But  I  sho'  toted  him.  And  whenever  I  would  see  the  moon 
glint  that  butcher  knife,  I  could  a  picked  up  two  more  like 
him  without  even  stopping."  He  said  that  at  first  he  just  ran; 
it  was  only  when  he  found  himself  among  the  trees  that  it 
occurred  to  him  that  his  only  hope  was  to  rake  Tom-Tom  off 
against  a  tree  trunk.  "But  he  helt  on  so  tight  with  that  one 
arm  that  whenever  I  busted  him  into  a  tree,  I  had  to  bust  into 
the  tree  too.  And  then  we'd  bounce  off  and  I'd  catch  that 
moonglint  in  that  nekkid  knife,  and  I  could  a  picked  up  two 
more  Tom-Toms. 

"  'Bout  that  time  was  when  Tom-Tom  started  squalling. 
He  was  holding  on  with  both  hands  then,  so  I  knowed  that  I 
had  done  outrun  that  butcher  knife  anyhow.  But  I  was  good 
started  then;  my  feets  never  paid  Tom-Tom  no  more  mind 
when  he  started  squalling  to  stop  and  let  him  off  than  they 
did  me.  Then  Tom-Tom  grabbed  my  head  with  both  hands 
and  begun  to  haul  it  around  like  I  was  a  runaway  bareback 


Centaur  in  Brass  165 

mule,  and  then  I  seed  the  ditch.  It  was  about  forty  foot  deep 
and  it  looked  a  solid  mile  across,  but  it  was  too  late  then.  My 
feets  never  even  slowed  up.  They  run  far  as  from  here  to  that 
door  yonder  out  into  nekkid  air  before  us  even  begun  to  fall. 
And  they  was  still  clawing  that  moonlight  when  me  and 
Tom-Tom  hit  the  bottom." 

The  first  thing  I  wanted  to  know  was,  what  Tom-Tom 
used  in  lieu  of  the  butcher  knife  which  he  had  dropped.  He 
didn't  use  anything.  He  and  Turl  just  sat  there  in  the  ditch 
and  talked.  Because  there  is  a  sanctuary  beyond  despair  for 
any  beast  which  has  dared  all,  which  even  its  mortal  enemy 
respects.  Or  maybe  it  was  just  nigger  nature.  Anyway,  it  was 
perfectly  plain  to  both  of  them  as  they  sat  there,  perhaps 
panting  a  little  while  they  talked,  that  Tom-Tom's  home  had 
been  outraged,  not  by  Turl,  but  by  Flem  Snopes;  that  Turl's 
life  and  limbs  had  been  endangered,  not  by  Tom-Tom,  but 
by  Flem  Snopes. 

That  was  so  plain  to  them  that  they  sat  there  quietly  in  the 
ditch,  getting  their  wind  back,  talking  a  little  without  heat 
like  two  acquaintances  meeting  in  the  street;  so  plain  that 
they  made  their  concerted  plan  without  recourse  to  definite 
words  on  the  subject.  They  merely  compared  notes;  perhaps 
they  laughed  a  little  at  themselves.  Then  they  climbed  out  of 
the  ditch  and  returned  to  Tom-Tom's  cabin,  where  Tom- 
Tom  unlocked  his  wife,  and  he  and  Turl  sat  before  the  hearth 
while  the  woman  prepared  a  meal  for  them,  which  they  ate 
as  quietly  but  without  loss  of  time:  the  two  grave,  scratched 
faces  leaned  to  the  same  lamp,  above  the  same  dishes,  while 
in  the  background  the  woman  watched  them,  shadowy  and 
covert  and  unspeaking. 

Tom-Tom  took  her  to  the  barn  with  them  to  help  load  the 
brass  into  the  wagon,  where  Turl  spoke  for  the  first  time 
since  they  climbed  together  out  of  the  ditch  in  Harker's 


1 66  The  Village 

"amical"  cuckoldry:  "Great  God,  man,  how  long  did  it  take 
you  to  tote  all  this  stuff  out  here?" 

"Not  long,"  Tom-Tom  said.  "Been  working  at  it  'bout 
two  years." 

It  required  four  trips  in  the  wagon;  it  was  daybreak  when 
the  last  load  was  disposed  of,  and  the  sun  was  rising  when 
Turl  entered  the  power  plant,  eleven  hours  late. 

"Where  in  hell  you  been?"  Harker  said. 

Turl  glanced  up  at  the  three  gauges,  his  scratched  face 
wearing  an  expression  of  monkeylike  gravity. "Been  helping 
a  friend  of  mine." 

"Helping  what  friend  of  yours?" 

"Boy  named  Turl,"  Turl  said,  squinting  at  the  gauges. 

V 

"AND  THAT  WAS  all  he  said,"  Harker  said.  "And  me  looking  at 
that  scratched  face  of  hisn,  and  at  the  mate  of  it  that  Tom- 
Tom  brought  in  at  six  o'clock.  But  Turl  didn't  tell  me  then. 
And  I  ain't  the  only  one  he  never  told  nothing  that  morning. 
Because  Mr.  Snopes  got  there  before  six  o'clock,  before  Turl 
had  got  away.  He  sent  for  Turl  and  asked  him  if  he  had 
found  that  brass  and  Turl  told  him  no. 

"  'Why  didn't  you  find  it?'  Mr.  Snopes  said. 

"Turl  didn't  look  away,  this  time.  'Because  it  ain't  no  brass 
there.  That's  the  main  reason.' 

"  'How  do  you  know  there  ain't?'  Mr.  Snopes  says. 

"And  Turl  looked  him  straight  in  them  eyes.  'Because 
Tom-Tom  say  it  ain't,'  Turl  says. 

"Maybe  he  ought  to  knew  then.  But  a  man  will  go  to  any 
length  to  fool  himself;  he  will  tell  himself  stuff  and  believe  it 
that  he  would  be  downright  mad  with  a  fellow  he  had  done 
trimmed  for  believing  it.  So  now  he  sends  for  Tom-Tom. 

"  'I  ain't  got  no  brass,'  Tom-Tom  says. 


Centaur  in  Brass  167 

"Where  is  it,  then?' 

"  'It's  where  you  said  you  wanted  it.' 

"  'Where  I  said  I  wanted  it  when?' 

"  'When  you  took  them  whistle  valves  off  the  boilers,' 
Tom-Tom  says. 

"That's  what  whipped  him.  He  didn't  dare  to  fire  neither 
one  of  them,  you  see.  And  so  he'd  have  to  see  one  of  them 
there  all  day  long  every  day,  and  know  that  the  other  one 
was  there  all  night  long  every  night;  he  would  have  to  know 
that  during  every  twenty-four  hours  that  passed,  one  or  the 
other  of  them  was  there,  getting  paid — paid,  mind  you,  by 
the  hour — for  living  half  their  lives  right  there  under  that 
tank  with  them  four  loads  of  brass  in  it  that  now  belonged  to 
him  by  right  of  purchase  and  which  he  couldn't  claim  now 
because  now  he  had  done  waited  too  late. 

"It  sure  was  too  late.  But  next  New  Year  it  got  later.  Come 
New  Year's  and  the  town  got  audited  again;  again  them  two 
spectacled  fellows  come  down  here  and  checked  the  books 
and  went  away  and  come  back  with  not  only  the  city  clerk, 
but  with  Buck  Conner  too,  with  a  warrant  for  Turl  and 
Tom-Tom.  And  there  they  were,  hemming  and  hawing, 
being  sorry  again,  pushing  one  another  in  front  to  talk.  It 
seems  how  they  had  made  a  mistake  two  years  ago,  and 
instead  of  three-hundred-and-four-fifty-two  of  this  here 
evaporating  brass,  there  was  five-hundred-and-twenty-five 
dollars  worth,  leaving  a  net  of  over  two-hundred-and-twenty 
dollars.  And  there  was  Buck  Conner  with  the  warrant,  all 
ready  to  arrest  Turl  and  Tom-Tom  when  he  give  the  word, 
and  it  so  happening  that  Turl  and  Tom-Tom  was  both  in  the 
boiler-room  at  that  moment,  changing  shifts. 

"So  Snopes  paid  them.  Dug  down  and  hauled  out  the 
money  and  paid  them  the  two-hundred-and-twenty  and  got 
his  receipt.  And  about  two  hours  later  I  happened  to  pass 
through  the  office.  At  first  I  didn't  see  nobody^  because  the 


1 68  The  Village 

light  was  off.  So  I  thought  maybe  the  bulb  was  burned  out, 
seeing  as  that  light  burned  all  the  time.  But  it  wasn't  burned 
out;  it  was  just  turned  out.  Only  before  I  turned  it  on  I  saw 
him,  setting  there.  So  I  didn't  turn  the  light  on.  I  just  went 
on  out  and  left  him  setting  there,  setting  right  still." 

VI 

IN  THOSE  DAYS  Snopes  lived  in  a  new  little  bungalow  on  the 
edge  of  town,  and,  when  shortly  after  that  New  Year  he 
resigned  from  the  power  plant,  as  the  weather  warmed  into 
Spring  they  would  see  him  quite  often  in  his  tiny  grassless 
and  treeless  side  yard.  It  was  a  locality  of  such  other  hopeless 
little  houses  inhabited  half  by  Negroes,  and  washed  clay  gul- 
lies and  ditches  filled  with  scrapped  automobiles  and  tin  cans, 
and  the  prospect  was  not  pleasing.  Yet  he  spent  quite  a  lot 
of  his  time  there,  sitting  on  the  steps,  not  doing  anything. 
And  so  they  wondered  what  he  could  be  looking  at  there, 
since  there  was  nothing  to  see  above  the  massed  trees  which 
shaded  the  town  itself  except  the  low  smudge  of  the  power 
plant,  and  the  water  tank.  And  it  too  was  condemned  now, 
for  the  water  had  suddenly  gone  bad  two  years  ago  and  the 
town  now  had  a  new  reservoir  underground.  But  the  tank 
was  a  stout  one  and  the  water  was  still  good  to  wash  the 
streets  with,  and  so  the  town  let  it  stand,  refusing  at  one  time 
a  quite  liberal  though  anonymous  offer  to  purchase  and  re- 
move it. 

So  they  wondered  what  Snopes  was  looking  at.  They 
didn't  know  that  he  was  contemplating  his  monument:  that 
shaft  taller  than  anything  in  sight  and  filled  with  transient  and 
symbolical  liquid  that  was  not  even  fit  to  drink,  but  which, 
for  the  very  reason  of  its  impermanence,  was  more  enduring 
through  its  fluidity  and  blind  renewal  than  the  brass  which 
poisoned  it,  than  columns  of  basalt  or  of  lead. 


Dry  September 


i 

THROUGH  THE  BLOODY  September  twilight,  aftermath  of 
sixty-two  rainless  days,  it  had  gone  like  a  fire  in  dry  grass — 
the  rumor,  the  story,  whatever  it  was.  Something  about  Miss 
Minnie  Cooper  and  a  Negro.  Attacked,  insulted,  frightened: 
none  of  them,  gathered  in  the  barber  shop  on  that  Saturday 
evening  where  the  ceiling  fan  stirred,  without  freshening  it, 
the  vitiated  air,  sending  back  upon  them,  in  recurrent  surges 
of  stale  pomade  and  lotion,  their  own  stale  breath  and  odors, 
knew  exactly  what  had  happened. 

"Except  it  wasn't  Will  Mayes,"  a  barber  said.  He  was  a 
man  of  middle  age;  a  thin,  sand-colored  man  with  a  mild 
face,  who  was  shaving  a  client.  "I  know  Will  Mayes.  He's 
a  good  nigger.  And  I  know  Miss  Minnie  Cooper,  too." 

"What  do  you  know  about  her?"  a  second  barber  said. 

"Who  is  she?"  the  client  said.  "A  young  girl?" 

"No,"  the  barber  said.  'rShe's  about  forty,  I  reckon.  She 
aint  married.  That's  why  I  dont  believe — " 

"Believe,  hell!"  a  hulking  youth  in  a  sweat-stained  silk 
shirt  said.  "Wont  you  take  a  white  woman's  word  before  a 
nigger's?" 

"I  dont  believe  Will  Mayes  did  it,"  the  barber  said.  "I 
know  Will  Mayes." 

169 


170  The  Village 

"Maybe  you  know  who  did  it,  then.  Maybe  you  already 
got  him  out  of  town,  you  damn  niggerlover." 

"I  dont  believe  anybody  did  anything.  I  dont  believe  any- 
thing happened.  I  leave  it  to  you  fellows  if  them  ladies  that 
get  old  without  getting  married  dont  have  notions  that  a 


man  cant — " 


"Then  you  are  a  hell  of  a  white  man,"  the  client  said.  He 
moved  under  the  cloth.  The  youth  had  sprung  to  his  feet. 

"You  dont?"  he  said.  "Do  you  accuse  a  white  woman  of 
lying?" 

The  barber  held  the  razor  poised  above  the  half-risen 
client.  He  did  not  look  around. 

"It's  this  durn  weather,"  another  said.  "It's  enough  to 
make  a  man  do  anything.  Even  to  her." 

Nobody  laughed.  The  barber  said  in  his  mild,  stubborn 
tone:  "I  aint  accusing  nobody  of  nothing.  I  just  know  and 
you  fellows  know  how  a  woman  that  never — " 

"You  damn  niggerlover!"  the  youth  said. 

"Shut  up,  Butch,"  another  said.  "We'll  get  the  facts  in 
plenty  of  time  to  act." 

"Who  is?  Who's  getting  them?"  the  youth  said.  "Facts, 
hell!  I—" 

"You're  a  fine  white  man,"  the  client  said.  "Aint  you?" 
In  his  frothy  beard  he  looked  like  a  desert  rat  in  the  moving 
pictures.  "You  tell  them,  Jack,"  he  said  to  the  youth.  "If 
there  aint  any  white  men  in  this  town,  you  can  count  on 
me,  even  if  I  aint  only  a  drummer  and  a  stranger." 

"That's  right,  boys,"  the  barber  said.  "Find  out  the  truth 
first.  I  know  Will  Mayes." 

"Well,  by  God!"  the  youth  shouted.  "To  think  that  a 
white  man  in  this  town — " 

"Shut  up,  Butch,"  the  second  speaker  said.  "We  got 
plenty  of  time." 

The  client  sat  up.  He  looked  at  the  speaker.  "Do  you 


Dry  September  171 

claim  that  anything  excuses  a  nigger  attacking  a  white 
woman?  Do  you  mean  to  tell  me  you  are  a  white  man  and 
you'll  stand  for  it?  You  better  go  back  North  where  you 
came  from.  The  South  dont  want  your  kind  here." 

"North  what?"  the  second  said.  "I  was  born  and  raised  in 
this  town." 

"Well,  by  God!"  the  youth  said.  He  looked  about  with 
a  strained,  baffled  gaze,  as  if  he  was  trying  to  remember  what 
it  was  he  wanted  to  say  or  to  do.  He  drew  his  sleeve  across 
his  sweating  face.  "Damn  if  I'm  going  to  let  a  white 
woman — " 

"You  tell  them,  Jack,"  the  drummer  said.  "By  God,  if 
they—" 

The  screen  door  crashed  open.  A  man  stood  in  the  floor, 
his  feet  apart  and  his  heavy-set  body  poised  easily.  His  white 
shirt  was  open  at  the  throat;  he  wore  a  felt  hat.  His  hot, 
bold  glance  swept  the  group.  His  name  was  McLendon.  He 
had  commanded  troops  at  the  front  in  France  and  had  been 
decorated  for  valor. 

"Well,"  he  said,  "are  you  going  to  sit  there  and  let  a  black 
son  rape  a  white  woman  on  the  streets  of  Jefferson?" 

Butch  sprang  up  again.  The  silk  of  his  shirt  clung  flat  to 
his  heavy  shoulders.  At  each  armpit  was  a  dark  halfmoon, 
"That's  what  I  been  telling  them!  That's  what  I — " 

"Did  it  really  happen?"  a  third  said.  "This  aint  the  first 
man  scare  she  ever  had,  like  Hawkshaw  says.  Wasn't  there 
something  about  a  man  on  the  kitchen  roof,  watching  her 
undress,  about  a  year  ago?" 

"What?"  the  client  said.  "What's  that?"  The  barber  had 
been  slowly  forcing  him  back  into  the  chair;  he  arrested 
himself  reclining,  his  head  lifted,  the  barber  still  pressing  him 
down. 

McLendon  whirled  on  the  third  speaker.  "Happen?  What 


1 72  The  Village 

the  hell  difference  does  it  make?  Are  you  going  to  let  the 
black  sons  get  away  with  it  until  one  really  does  it?'* 

"That's  what  I'm  telling  them!"  Butch  shouted.  He  cursed, 
long  and  steady,  pointless. 

"Here,  here,"  a  fourth  said.  "Not  so  loud.  Dont  talk  so 
loud." 

"Sure,"  McLendon  said;  "no  talking  necessary  at  all.  I've 
done  my  talking.  Who's  with  me?"  He  poised  on  the  balls 
of  his  feet,  roving  his  gaze. 

The  barber  held  the  drummer's  face  down,  the  razor 
poised.  "Find  out  the  facts  first,  boys.  I  know  Willy  Mayes. 
It  wasn't  him.  Let's  get  the  sheriff  and  do  this  thing  right." 

McLendon  whirled  upon  him  his  furious,  rigid  face.  The 
barber  did  not  look  away.  They  looked  like  men  of  different 
races.  The  other  barbers  had  ceased  also  above  their  prone 
clients.  "You  mean  to  tell  me,"  McLendon  said,  "that  you'd 
take  a  nigger's  word  before  a  white  woman's?  Why,  you 
damn  niggerloving — " 

The  third  speaker  rose  and  grasped  McLendon's  arm;  he 
too  had  been  a  soldier.  "Now,  now.  Let's  figure  this  thing 
out.  Who  knows  anything  about  what  really  happened?" 

"Figure  out  hell!"  McLendon  jerked  his  arm  free.  "All 
that're  with  me  get  up  from  there.  The  ones  that  aint — " 
He  roved  his  gaze,  dragging  his  sleeve  across  his  face. 

Three  men  rose.  The  drummer  in  the  chair  sat  up.  "Here," 
he  said,  jerking  at  the  cloth  about  his  neck;  "get  this  rag  off 
me.  I'm  with  him.  I  dont  live  here,  but  by  God,  if  our 
mothers  and  wives  and  sisters — "  He  smeared  the  cloth  over 
his  face  and  flung  it  to  the  floor.  McLendon  stood  in  the 
floor  and  cursed  the  others.  Another  rose  and  moved  toward 
him.  The  remainder  sat  uncomfortable,  not  looking  at  one 
another,  then  one  by  one  they  rose  and  joined  him. 

The  barber  picked  the  cloth  from  the  floor.  He  began  to 


Dry  September  173 

fold  it  neatly.  "Boys,  dont  do  that.  Will  Mayes  never  done 
it.  I  know." 

"Come  on,"  McLendon  said.  He  whirled.  From  his  hip 
pocket  protruded  the  butt  of  a  heavy  automatic  pistol.  They 
went  out.  The  screen  door  crashed  behind  them  reverberant 
in  the  dead  air. 

The  barber  wiped  the  razor  carefully  and  swiftly,  and 
put  it  away,  and  ran  to  the  rear,  and  took  his  hat  from  the 
wall.  "I'll  be  back  as  soon  as  I  can,"  he  said  to  the  other 
barbers.  "I  cant  let — "  He  went  out,  running.  The  two  other 
barbers  followed  him  to  the  door  and  caught  it  on  the  re- 
bound, leaning  out  and  looking  up  the  street  after  him.  The 
air  was  flat  and  dead.  It  had  a  metallic  taste  at  the  base  of  the 
tongue. 

"What  can  he  do?"  the  first  said.  The  second  one  was 
saying  "Jees  Christ,  Jees  Christ"  under  his  breath.  "I'd  just 
as  lief  be  Will  Mayes  as  Hawk,  if  he  gets  McLendon  riled." 

"Jees  Christ,  Jees  Christ,"  the  second  whispered. 

"You  reckon  he  really  done  it  to  her?"  the  first  said. 

II 

SHE  WAS  thirty-eight  or  thirty-nine.  She  lived  in  a  small 
frame  house  with  her  invalid  mother  and  a  thin,  sallow,  un- 
flagging aunt,  where  each  morning  between  ten  and  eleven 
she  would  appear  on  the  porch  in  a  lace-trimmed  boudoir 
cap,  to  sit  swinging  in  the  porch  swing  until  noon.  After 
dinner  she  lay  down  for  a  while,  until  the  afternoon  began 
to  cool.  Then,  in  one  of  the  three  or  four  new  voile  dresses 
which  she  had  each  summer,  she  would  go  downtown  to 
spend  the  afternoon  in  the  stores  with  the  other  ladies,  where 
they  would  handle  the  goods  and  haggle  over  the  prices  in 
cold,  immediate  voices,  without  any  intention  of  buying. 
She  was  of  comfortable  people — not  the  best  in  Jefferson, 


174  The  Village 

but  good  people  enough — and  she  was  still  on  the  slender 
side  of  ordinary  looking,  with  a  bright,  faintly  haggard  man- 
ner and  dress.  When  she  was  young  she  had  had  a  slender, 
nervous  body  and  a  sort  of  hard  vivacity  which  had  enabled 
her  for  a  time  to  ride  upon  the  crest  of  the  town's  social  life 
as  exemplified  by  the  high  school  party  and  church  social 
period  of  her  contemporaries  while  still  children  enough  to 
be  unclassconscious. 

She  was  the  last  to  realize  that  she  was  losing  ground;  that 
those  among  whom  she  had  been  a  little  brighter  and  louder 
flame  than  any  other  were  beginning  to  learn  the  pleasure  of 
snobbery — male — and  retaliation — female.  That  was  when 
her  face  began  to  wear  that  bright,  haggard  look.  She  still 
carried  it  to  parties  on  shadowy  porticoes  and  summer  lawns, 
like  a  mask  or  a  flag,  with  that  bafflement  of  furious  repudia- 
tion of  truth  in  her  eyes.  One  evening  at  a  party  she  heard 
a  boy  and  two  girls,  all  schoolmates,  talking.  She  never  ac- 
cepted another  invitation. 

She  watched  the  girls  with  whom  she  had  grown  up  as 
they  married  and  got  homes  and  children,  but  no  man  ever 
called  on  her  steadily  until  the  children  of  the  other  girls 
had  been  calling  her  "aunty"  for  several  years,  the  while 
their  mothers  told  them  in  bright  voices  about  how  popular 
Aunt  Minnie  had  been  as  a  girl.  Then  the  town  began  to  see 
her  driving  on  Sunday  afternoons  with  the  cashier  in  the 
bank.  He  was  a  widower  of  about  forty — a  high-colored 
man,  smelling  always  faintly  of  the  barber  shop  or  of  whisky. 
He  owned  the  first  automobile  in  town,  a  red  runabout; 
Minnie  had  the  first  motoring  bonnet  and  veil  the  town  ever 
saw.  Then  the  town  began  to  say:  "Poor  Minnie."  "But  she 
is  old  enough  to  take  care  of  herself,"  others  said.  That  was 
when  she  began  to  ask  her  old  schoolmates  that  their  chil- 
dren call  her  "cousin"  instead  of  "aunty." 

It  was  twelve  vears  now  since  she  had  been  relegated  into 


Dry  September  175 

adultery  by  public  opinion,  and  eight  years  since  the  cashier 
had  gone  to  a  Memphis  bank,  returning  for  one  day  each 
Christmas,  which  he  spent  at  an  annual  bachelors'  party  at 
a  hunting  club  on  the  river.  From  behind  their  curtains  the 
neighbors  would  see  the  party  pass,  and  during  the  over-the- 
way  Christmas  day  visiting  they  would  tell  her  about  him, 
about  how  well  he  looked,  and  how  they  heard  that  he  was 
prospering  in  the  city,  watching  with  bright,  secret  eyes  her 
haggard,  bright  face.  Usually  by  that  hour  there  would  be 
the  scent  of  whisky  on  her  breath.  It  was  supplied  her  by  a 
youth,  a  clerk  at  the  soda  fountain:  "Sure;  I  buy  it  for  the 
old  gal.  I  reckon  she's  entitled  to  a  little  fun." 

Her  mother  kept  to  her  room  altogether  now;  the  gaunt 
aunt  ran  the  house.  Against  that  background  Minnie's  bright 
dresses,  her  idle  and  empty  days,  had  a  quality  of  furious 
unreality.  She  went  out  in  the  evenings  only  with  women 
now,  neighbors,  to  the  moving  pictures.  Each  afternoon  she 
dressed  in  one  of  the  new  dresses  and  went  downtown  alone, 
where  her  young  "cousins"  were  already  strolling  in  the  late 
afternoons  with  their  delicate,  silken  heads  and  thin,  awk- 
ward arms  and  conscious  hips,  clinging  to  one  another  or 
shrieking  and  giggling  with  paired  boys  in  the  soda  fountain 
when  she  passed  and  went  on  along  the  serried  store  fronts, 
in  the  doors  of  which  the  sitting  and  lounging  men  did  not 
even  follow  her  with  their  eyes  any  more. 

Ill 

THE  BARBER  WENT  SWIFTLY  up  the  street  where  the  sparse 
lights,  insect-swirled,  glared  in  rigid  and  violent  suspension 
in  the  lifeless  air.  The  day  had  died  in  a  pall  of  dust;  above 
the  darkened  square,  shrouded  by  the  spent  dust,  the  sky 
was  as  clear  as  the  inside  of  a  brass  bell.  Below  the  east  was 
a  rumor  of  the  twice-waxed  moon. 


176  The  Village 

When  he  overtook  them  McLendon  and  three  others  were 
getting  into  a  car  parked  in  an  alley.  McLendon  stooped  his 
thick  head,  peering  out  beneath  the  top,  "Changed  your 
mind,  did  you?"  he  said.  "Damn  good  thing;  by  God,  to- 
morrow when  this  town  hears  about  how  you  talked  to- 
night—" 

"Now,  now,"  the  other  ex-soldier  said.  "Hawkshaw's  all 
right.  Come  on,  Hawk;  jump  in." 

"Will  Mayes  never  done  it,  boys,"  the  barber  said.  "If 
anybody  done  it.  Why,  you  all  know  well  as  I  do  there  aint 
any  town  where  they  got  better  niggers  than  us.  And  you 
know  how  a  lady  will  kind  of  think  things  about  men  when 
there  aint  any  reason  to,  and  Miss  Minnie  anyway — " 

"Sure,  sure,"  the  soldier  said.  "We're  just  going  to  talk 
to  him  a  little;  that's  all." 

"Talk  hell!"  Butch  said.  "When  we're  through  with 
the—" 

"Shut  up,  for  God's  sake!"  the  soldier  said.  "Do  you  want 
everybody  in  town — " 

"Tell  them,  by  God!"  McLendon  said.  "Tell  every  one 
of  the  sons  that'll  let  a  white  woman — " 

"Let's  go;  let's  go:  here's  the  other  car."  The  second  car 
slid  squealing  out  of  a  cloud  of  dust  at  the  alley  mouth. 
McLendon  started  his  car  and  took  the  lead.  Dust  lay  like 
fog  in  the  street.  The  street  lights  hung  nimbused  as  in 
water.  They  drove  on  out  of  town. 

A  rutted  lane  turned  at  right  angles.  Dust  hung  above  it 
too,  and  above  all  the  land.  The  dark  bulk  of  the  ice  plant, 
where  the  Negro  Mayes  was  night  watchman,  rose  against 
the  sky.  "Better  stop  here,  hadn't  we?"  the  soldier  said. 
McLendon  did  not  reply.  He  hurled  the  car  up  and  slammed 
to  a  stop,  the  headlights  glaring  on  the  blank  wall. 

"Listen  here,  boys,"  the  barber  said;  "if  he's  here,  dont 
that  prove  he  never  done  it?  Dont  it?  If  it  was  him,  he 


Dry  September  177 

would  run.  Dont  you  see  he  would?"  The  second  car  came 
up  and  stopped.  McLendon  got  down;  Butch  sprang  down 
beside  him.  "Listen,  boys,"  the  barber  said. 

"Cut  the  lights  off!"  McLendon  said.  The  breathless  dark 
rushed  down.  There  was  no  sound  in  it  save  their  lungs  as 
they  sought  air  in  the  parched  dust  in  which  for  two  months 
they  had  lived;  then  the  diminishing  crunch  of  McLendon's 
and  Dutch's  feet,  and  a  moment  later  McLendon's  voice: 

"Will!  .  .  .  Will!" 

Below  the  east  the  wan  hemorrhage  of  the  moon  increased. 
It  heaved  above  the  ridge,  silvering  the  air,  the  dust,  so  that 
they  seemed  to  breathe,  live,  in  a  bowl  of  molten  lead.  There 
was  no  sound  of  nightbird  nor  insect,  no  sound  save  their 
breathing  and  a  faint  ticking  of  contracting  metal  about  the 
cars.  Where  their  bodies  touched  one  another  they  seemed 
to  sweat  dryly,  for  no  more  moisture  came.  "Christ!"  a 
voice  said;  "let's  get  out  of  here." 

But  they  didn't  move  until  vague  noises  began  to  grow 
out  of  the  darkness  ahead;  then  they  got  out  and  waited 
tensely  in  the  breathless  dark.  There  was  another  sound:  a 
blow,  a  hissing  expulsion  of  breath  and  McLendon  cursing 
in  undertone.  They  stood  a  moment  longer,  then  they  ran 
forward.  They  ran  in  a  stumbling  clump,  as  though  they 
were  fleeing  something.  "Kill  him,  kill  the  son,"  a  voice 
whispered.  McLendon  flung  them  back. 

"Not  here,"  he  said.  "Get  him  into  the  car."  "Kill  him, 
kill  the  black  son!"  the  voice  murmured.  They  dragged  the 
Negro  to  the  car.  The  barber  had  waited  beside  the  car.  He 
could  feel  himself  sweating  and  he  knew  he  was  going  to  be 
sick  at  the  stomach. 

"What  is  it,  captains?"  the  Negro  said.  "I  aint  done  noth- 
ing. Tore  God,  Mr  John."  Someone  produced  handcuffs. 
They  worked  busily  about  the  Negro  as  though  he  were  a 
post,  quiet,  intent,  getting  in  one  another's  way.  He  sub- 


178  The  Village 

mitted  to  the  handcuffs,  looking  swiftly  and  constantly  from 
dim  face  to  dim  face.  "Who's  here,  captains?"  he  said,  lean- 
ing to  peer  into  the  faces  until  they  could  feel  his  breath 
and  smell  his  sweaty  reek.  He  spoke  a  name  or  two.  "What 
you  all  say  I  done,  Mr  John?" 

McLendon  jerked  the  car  door  open.  "Get  in!"  he  said. 

The  Negro  did  not  move.  "What  you  all  going  to  do  with 
me,  Mr  John?  I  aint  done  nothing.  White  folks,  captains,  I 
aint  done  nothing:  I  swear  'fore  God."  He  called  another 
name. 

"Get  in!"  McLendon  said.  He  struck  the  Negro.  The 
others  expelled  their  breath  in  a  dry  hissing  and  struck  him 
with  random  blows  and  he  whirled  and  cursed  them,  and 
swept  his  manacled  hands  across  their  faces  and  slashed  the 
barber  upon  the  mouth,  and  the  barber  struck  him  also. 
"Get  him  in  there,"  McLendon  said.  They  pushed  at  him. 
He  ceased  struggling  and  got  in  and  sat  quietly  as  the  others 
took  their  places.  He  sat  between  the  barber  and  the  soldier, 
drawing  his  limbs  in  so  as  not  to  touch  them,  his  eyes  going 
swiftly  and  constantly  from  face  to  face.  Butch  clung  to  the 
running  board.  The  car  moved  on.  The  barber  nursed  his 
mouth  with  his  handkerchief. 

"What's  the  matter,  Hawk?"  the  soldier  said. 

"Nothing,"  the  barber  said.  They  regained  the  highroad 
and  turned  away  from  town.  The  second  car  dropped  back 
out  of  the  dust.  They  went  on,  gaining  speed;  the  final 
fringe  of  houses  dropped  behind. 

"Goddamn,  he  stinks!"  the  soldier  said. 

"We'll  fix  that,"  the  drummer  in  front  beside  McLendon 
said.  On  the  running  board  Butch  cursed  into  the  hot  rush 
of  air.  The  barber  leaned  suddenly  forward  and  touched 
McLendon's  arm. 

"Let  me  out,  John,"  he  said. 

"Jump  out,  niggerlover,"  McLendon  said  without  turning 


Dry  September  179 

his  head.  He  drove  swiftly.  Behind  them  the  sourceless  lights 
of  the  second  car  glared  in  the  dust.  Presently  McLendon 
turned  into  a  narrow  road.  It  was  rutted  with  disuse.  It  led 
back  to  an  abandoned  brick  kiln — a  series  of  reddish  mounds 
and  weed-  and  vine-choked  vats  without  bottom.  It  had  been 
used  for  pasture  once,  until  one  day  the  owner  missed  one 
of  his  mules.  Although  he  prodded  carefully  in  the  vats  with 
a  long  pole,  he  could  not  even  find  the  bottom  of  them. 

"John,"  the  barber  said. 

"Jump  out,  then,"  McLendon  said,  hurling  the  car  along 
the  ruts.  Beside  the  barber  the  Negro  spoke: 

"Mr  Henry." 

The  barber  sat  forward.  The  narrow  tunnel  of  the  road 
rushed  up  and  past.  Their  motion  was  like  an  extinct  furnace 
blast:  cooler,  but  utterly  dead.  The  car  bounded  from  rut 
to  rut. 

"Mr  Henry,"  the  Negro  said. 

The  barber  began  to  tug  furiously  at  the  door.  "Look  out, 
there!"  the  soldier  said,  but  the  barber  had  already  kicked 
the  door  open  and  swung  onto  the  running  board.  The 
soldier  leaned  across  the  Negro  and  grasped  at  him,  but  he 
had  already  jumped.  The  car  went  on  without  checking 
speed. 

The  impetus  hurled  him  crashing  through  dust-sheathed 
weeds,  into  the  ditch.  Dust  puffed  about  him,  and  in  a  thin, 
vicious  crackling  of  sapless  stems  he  lay  choking  and  retch- 
ing until  the  second  car  passed  and  died  away.  Then  he  rose 
and  limped  on  until  he  reached  the  highroad  and  turned 
toward  town,  brushing  at  his  clothes  with  his  hands.  The 
moon  was  higher,  riding  high  and  clear  of  the  dust  at  last, 
and  after  a  while  the  town  began  to  glare  beneath  the  dust. 
He  went  on,  limping.  Presently  he  heard  cars  and  the  glow 
of  them  grew  in  the  dust  behind  him  and  he  left  the  road 
and  crouched  again  in  the  weeds  until  they  passed.  Me- 


i8o  The  Village 

Lendon's  car  came  last  now.  There  were  four  people  in  it 
and  Butch  was  not  on  the  running  board. 

They  went  on;  the  dust  swallowed  them;  the  glare  and 
the  sound  died  away.  The  dust  of  them  hung  for  a  while, 
but  soon  the  eternal  dust  absorbed  it  again.  The  barber 
climbed  back  onto  the  road  and  limped  on  toward  town. 


IV 

As  SHE  DRESSED  for  supper  on  that  Saturday  evening,  her 
own  flesh  felt  like  fever.  Her  hands  trembled  among  the 
hooks  and  eyes,  and  her  eyes  had  a  feverish  look,  and  her 
hair  swirled  crisp  and  crackling  under  the  comb.  While  she 
was  still  dressing  the  friends  called  for  her  and  sat  while  she 
donned  her  sheerest  underthings  and  stockings  and  a  new 
voile  dress.  "Do  you  feel  strong  enough  to  go  out?"  they 
said,  their  eyes  bright  too,  with  a  dark  glitter.  "When  you 
have  had  time  to  get  over  the  shock,  you  must  tell  us  what 
happened.  What  he  said  and  did;  everything." 

In  the  leafed  darkness,  as  they  walked  toward  the  square, 
she  began  to  breathe  deeply,  something  like  a  swimmer  pre- 
paring to  dive,  until  she  ceased  trembling,  the  four  of  them 
walking  slowly  because  of  the  terrible  heat  and  out  of 
solicitude  for  her.  But  as  they  neared  the  square  she  began 
to  tremble  again,  walking  with  her  head  up,  her  hands 
clenched  at  her  sides,  their  voices  about  her  murmurous,  also 
with  that  feverish,  glittering  quality  of  their  eyes. 

They  entered  the  square,  she  in  the  center  of  the  group, 
fragile  in  her  fresh  dress.  She  was  trembling  worse.  She 
walked  slower  and  slower,  as  children  eat  ice  cream,  her 
head  up  and  her  eyes  bright  in  the  haggard  banner  of  her 
face,  passing  the  hotel  and  the  coatless  drummers  in  chairs 
along  the  curb  looking  around  at  her:  "That's  the  one:  see? 
The  one  in  pink  in  the  middle."  "Is  that  her?  What  did  they 


Dry  September  181 

do  with  the  nigger?  Did  they—?"  "Sure.  He's  all  right." 
"All  right,  is  he?"  "Sure.  He  went  on  a  little  trip."  Then  the 
drug  store,  where  even  the  young  men  lounging  in  the  door- 
way tipped  their  hats  and  followed  with  their  eyes  the 
motion  of  her  hips  and  legs  when  she  passed. 

They  went  on,  passing  the  lifted  hats  of  the  gentlemen, 
the  suddenly  ceased  voices,  deferent,  protective.  "Do  you 
see?"  the  friends  said.  Their  voices  sounded  like  long,  hover- 
ing sighs  of  hissing  exultation.  "There's  not  a  Negro  on  the 
square.  Not  one." 

They  reached  the  picture  show.  It  was  like  a  miniature 
fairyland  with  its  lighted  lobby  and  colored  lithographs  of 
life  caught  in  its  terrible  and  beautiful  mutations.  Her  lips 
began  to  tingle.  In  the  dark,  when  the  picture  began,  it 
would  be  all  right;  she  could  hold  back  the  laughing  so  it 
would  not  waste  away  so  fast  and  so  soon.  So  she  hurried  on 
before  the  turning  faces,  the  undertones  of  low  astonish- 
ment, and  they  took  their  accustomed  places  where  she  could 
see  the  aisle  against  the  silver  glare  and  the  young  men  and 
girls  coming  in  two  and  two  against  it. 

The  lights  flicked  away;  the  screen  glowed  silver,  and 
soon  life  began  to  unfold,  beautiful  and  passionate  and  sad, 
while  still  the  young  men  and  girls  entered,  scented  and 
sibilant  in  the  half  dark,  their  paired  backs  in- silhouette  deli- 
cate and  sleek,  their  slim,  quick  bodies  awkward,  divinely 
young,  while  beyond  them  the  silver  dream  accumulated, 
inevitably  on  and  on.  She  began  to  laugh.  In  trying  to  sup- 
press it,  it  made  more  noise  than  ever;  heads  began  to  turn. 
Still  laughing,  her  friends  raised  her  and  led  her  out,  and 
she  stood  at  the  curb,  laughing  on  a  high,  sustained  note, 
until  the  taxi  came  up  and  they  helped  her  in. 

They  removed  the  pink  voile  and  the  sheer  underthings 
and  the  stockings,  and  put  her  to  bed,  and  cracked  ice  for 
her  temples,  and  sent  for  the  doctor.  He  was  hard  to  locate, 


1 82  The  Village 

so  they  ministered  to  her  with  hushed  ejaculations,  renew- 
ing the  ice  and  fanning  her.  While  the  ice  was  fresh  and 
cold  she  stopped  laughing  and  lay  still  for  a  time,  moaning 
only  a  little.  But  soon  the  laughing  welled  again  and  her 
voice  rose  screaming. 

"Shhhhhhhhhhh!  Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"  they  said,  fresh- 
ening the  icepack,  smoothing  her  hair,  examining  it  for  gray; 
"poor  girl!"  Then  to  one  another:  "Do  you  suppose  any- 
thing really  happened?"  their  eyes  darkly  aglitter,  secret  and 
passionate.  "Shhhhhhhhhh!  Poor  girl!  Poor  Minnie!" 

V 

IT  WAS  MIDNIGHT  when  McLendon  drove  up  to  his  neat  new 
house.  It  was  trim  and  fresh  as  a  birdcage  and  almost  as 
small,  with  its  clean,  green-and-white  paint.  He  locked  the 
car  and  mounted  the  porch  and  entered.  His  wife  rose  from 
a  chair  beside  the  reading  lamp.  McLendon  stopped  in  the 
floor  and  stared  at  her  until  she  looked  down. 

"Look  at  that  clock,"  he  said,  lifting  his  arm,  pointing. 
She  stood  before  him,  her  face  lowered,  a  magazine  in  her 
hands.  Her  face  was  pale,  strained,  and  weary-looking. 
"Haven't  I  told  you  about  sitting  up  like  this,  waiting  to 
see  when  I  come  in?" 

"John,"  she  said.  She  laid  the  magazine  down.  Poised  on 
the  balls  of  his  feet,  he  glared  at  her  with  his  hot  eyes,  his 
sweating  face. 

"Didn't  I  tell  you?"  He  went  toward  her.  She  looked  up 
then.  He  caught  her  shoulder.  She  stood  passive,  looking  at 
him. 

"Don't,  John.  I  couldn't  sleep  .  .  .  The  heat;  something. 
Please,  John.  You're  hurting  me." 

"Didn't  I  tell  you?"  He  released  her  and  half  struck,  half 
flung  her  across  the  chair,  and  she  lay  there  and  watched 
him  quietly  as  he  left  the  room. 


Dry  September  183 

He  went  on  through  the  house,  ripping  off  his  shirt,  and 
on  the  dark,  screened  porch  at  the  rear  he  stood  and  mopped 
his  head  and  shoulders  with  the  shirt  and  flung  it  away.  He 
took  the  pistol  from  his  hip  and  laid  it  on  the  table  beside 
the  bed,  and  sat  on  the  bed  and  removed  his  shoes,  and  rose 
and  slipped  his  trousers  off.  He  was  sweating  again  already, 
and  he  stooped  and  hunted  furiously  for  the  shirt.  At  last 
he  found  it  and  wiped  his  body  again,  and,  with  his  body 
pressed  against  the  dusty  screen,  he  stood  panting.  There 
was  no  movement,  no  sound,  not  even  an  insect.  The  dark 
world  seemed  to  lie  stricken  beneath  the  cold  moon  and  the 
lidless  stars. 


Death  Drag 


THE  AIRPLANE  appeared  over  town  with  almost  the  abrupt- 
ness of  an  apparition.  It  was  travelling  fast;  almost  before  we 
knew  it  was  there  it  was  already  at  the  top  of  a  loop;  still 
over  the  square,  in  violation  of  both  city  and  government 
ordinance.  It  was  not  a  good  loop  either,  performed  viciously 
and  slovenly  and  at  top  speed,  as  though  the  pilot  were 
either  a  very  nervous  man  or  in  a  hurry,  or  (and  this  queerly: 
there  is  in  our  town  an  ex-army  aviator.  He  was  coming  out 
of  the  post  office  when  the  airplane  appeared  going  south;  he 
watched  the  hurried  and  ungraceful  loop  and  he  made  the 
comment)  as  though  the  pilot  were  trying  to  make  the  min- 
imum of  some  specified  manoeuvre  in  order  to  save  gasoline. 
The  airplane  came  over  the  loop  with  one  wing  down,  as 
though  about  to  make  an  Immelmann  turn.  Then  it  did  a  half 
roll,  the  loop  three-quarters  complete,  and  without  any  break 
in  the  whine  of  the  full-throttled  engine  and  still  at  top  speed 
and  with  that  apparition-like  suddenness,  it  disappeared  east- 
ward toward  our  airport.  When  the  first  small  boys  reached 
the  field,  the  airplane  was  on  the  ground,  drawn  up  into  a 
fence  corner  at  the  end  of  the  field.  It  was  motionless  and 
empty.  There  was  no  one  in  sight  at  all.  Resting  there,  empty 
and  dead,  patched  and  shabby  and  painted  awkwardly  with  a 
single  thin  coat  of  dead  black,  it  gave  again  that  illusion  of 
ghostliness,  as  though  it  might  have  flown  there  and  made 
rhat  loop  and  landed  by  itself. 


1 86  The  Village 

Our  field  is  still  in  an  embryonic  state.  Our  town  is  built 
upon  hills,  and  the  field,  once  a  cotton  field,  is  composed  of 
forty  acres  of  ridge  and  gully,  upon  which,  by  means  of 
grading  and  filling,  we  managed  to  build  an  X-shaped  run- 
way into  the  prevailing  winds.  The  runways  are  long  enough 
in  themselves,  but  the  field,  like  our  town,  is  controlled  by 
men  who  were  of  middle  age  when  younger  men  first  began 
to  fly,  and  so  the  clearance  is  not  always  good.  On  one  side 
is  a  grove  of  trees  which  the  owner  will  not  permit  to  be 
felled;  on  another  is  the  barnyard  of  a  farm:  sheds  and 
houses,  a  long  barn  with  a  roof  of  rotting  shingles,  a  big  hay- 
cock. The  airplane  had  come  to  rest  in  the  fence  corner  near 
the  barn.  The  small  boys  and  a  Negro  or  two  and  a  white 
man,  descended  from  a  halted  wagon  in  the  road,  were  stand- 
ing quietly  about  it  when  two  men  in  helmets  and  lifted 
goggles  emerged  suddenly  around  the  corner  of  the  barn. 
One  was  tall,  in  a  dirty  coverall.  The  other  was  quite 
short,  in  breeches  and  puttees  and  a  soiled,  brightly  patterned 
overcoat  which  looked  as  if  he  had  got  wet  in  it  and  it  had 
shrunk  on  him.  He  walked  with  a  decided  limp. 

They  had  stopped  at  the  corner  of  the  barn.  Without  ap- 
pearing to  actually  turn  their  heads,  they  seemed  to  take  in  at 
one  glance  the  entire  scene,  quickly.  The  tall  man  spoke. 
"What  town  is  this?" 

One  of  the  small  boys  told  him  the  name  of  the  town. 

"Who  lives  here?"  the  tall  man  said. 

"Who  lives  here?"  the  boy  repeated. 

"Who  runs  this  field?  Is  it  a  private  field?" 

"Oh.  It  belongs  to  the  town.  They  run  it." 

"Do  they  all  live  here?  The  ones  that  run  it?" 

The  white  man,  the  Negroes,  the  small  boys,  all  watched 
the  tall  man. 

"What  I  mean,  is  there  anybody  in  this  town  that  flies, 
that  owns  a  ship?  Any  strangers  here  that  fly?" 


Death  Drag  187 

"Yes,"  the  boy  said.  "There's  a  man  lives  here  that  flew  in 
the  war,  the  English  army." 

"Captain  Warren  was  in  the  Royal  Flying  Corps,"  a  sec- 
ond boy  said. 

"That's  what  I  said,"  the  first  boy  said. 

"You  said  the  English  army,"  the  second  boy  said. 

The  second  man,  the  short  one  with  the  limp,  spoke.  He 
spoke  to  the  tall  man,  quietly,  in  a  dead  voice,  in  the  diction 
of  Weber  and  Fields  in  vaudeville,  making  his  iv^s  into  v's 
and  his  ttfs  into  d's.  "What  does  that  mean?"  he  said. 

"It's  all  right,"  the  tall  man  said.  He  moved  forward.  "I 
think  I  know  him."  The  short  man  followed,  limping,  ter- 
rific, crablike.  The  tall  man  had  a  gaunt  face  beneath  a  two- 
days'  stubble.  His  eyeballs  looked  dirty,  too,  with  a  strained, 
glaring  expression.  He  wore  a  dirty  helmet  of  cheap,  thin 
cloth,  though  it  was  January.  His  goggles  were  worn,  but 
even  we  could  tell  that  they  were  good  ones.  But  then  every- 
body quit  looking  at  him  to  look  at  the  short  man;  later,  when 
we  older  people  saw  him,  we  said  among  ourselves  that  he 
had  the  most  tragic  face  we  had  ever  seen;  an  expression  of 
outraged  and  convinced  and  indomitable  despair,  like  that  of 
a  man  carrying  through  choice  a  bomb  which,  at  a  certain 
hour  each  day,  may  or  may  not  explode.  He  had  a  nose 
which  would  have  been  out  of  proportion  to  a  man  six  feet 
tall.  As  shaped  by  his  close  helmet,  the  entire  upper  half  of  his 
head  down  to  the  end  of  his  nose  would  have  fitted  a  six-foot 
body.  But  below  that,  below  a  lateral  line  bisecting  his  head 
from  the  end  of  his  nose  to  the  back  of  his  skull,  his  jaw,  the 
rest  of  his  face,  was  not  two  inches  deep.  His  jaw  was  a  long, 
flat  line  clapping-to  beneath  his  nose  like  the  jaw  of  a  shark,  so 
that  the  tip  of  his  nose  and  the  tip  of  his  jaw  almost  touched. 
His  goggles  were  merely  flat  pieces  of  window-glass  held  in 
felt  frames.  His  helmet  was  leather.  Down  the  back  of  it, 
from  the  top  to  the  hem,  was  a  long  savage  tear,  held  together 


1 88  The  Village 

top  and  bottom  by  strips  of  adhesive  tape  almost  black  with 
dirt  and  grease. 

From  around  the  corner  of  the  barn  there  now  appeared  a 
third  man,  again  with  that  abrupt  immobility,  as  though  he 
had  materialized  there  out  of  thin  air;  though  when  they  saw 
him  he  was  already  moving  toward  the  group.  He  wore  an 
overcoat  above  a  neat  civilian  suit;  he  wore  a  cap.  He  was  a 
little  taller  than  the  limping  man,  and  broad,  heavily  built. 
He  was  handsome  in  a  dull,  quiet  way;  from  his  face,  a  man 
of  infrequent  speech.  When  he  came  up  the  spectators  saw 
that  he,  like  the  limping  man,  was  also  a  Jew.  That  is,  they 
knew  at  once  that  two  of  the  strangers  were  of  a  different 
race  from  themselves,  without  being  able  to  say  what  the 
difference  was.  The  boy  who  had  first  spoken  probably  re- 
vealed by  his  next  speech  what  they  thought  the  difference 
was.  He,  as  well  as  the  other  boys,  was  watching  the  man 
who  limped. 

"Were  you  in  the  war?"  the  boy  said.  "In  the  air  war?" 

The  limping  man  did  not  answer.  Both  he  and  the  tall  man 
were  watching  the  gate.  The  spectators  looked  also  and  saw 
a  car  enter  the  gate  and  come  down  the  edge  of  the  field1 
toward  them.  Three  men  got  out  of  the  car  and  approached. 
Again  the  limping  man  spoke  quietly  to  the  tall  man:  "Is  that 
one?" 

"No,"  the  tall  man  said,  without  looking  at  the  other.  He 
watched  the  newcomers,  looking  from  face  to  face.  He  spoke 
to  the  oldest  of  the  three.  "Morning,"  he  said.  "You  run  this 
field?" 

"No,"  the  newcomer  said.  "You  want  the  secretary  of  the 
Fair  Association.  He's  in  town." 

"Any  charge  to  use  it?" 

"I  don't  know.  I  reckon  they'll  be  glad  to  have  you  use  it." 

"Go  on  and  pay  them,"  the  limping  man  said. 

The  three  newcomers  looked  at  the  airplane  with  that 
blank,  knowing,  respectful  air  of  groundlings.  It  reared  on  its 


Death  Drag  189 

muddy  wheels,  the  propeller  motionless,  rigid,  with  a  quality 
immobile  and  poised  and  dynamic.  The  nose  was  big  with 
engine,  the  wings  taut,  the  fuselage  streaked  with  oil  behind 
the  rusting  exhaust  pipes.  "Going  to  do  some  business  here?" 
the  oldest  one  said. 

"Put  you  on  a  show,"  the  tall  man  said. 

"What  kind  of  show?" 

"Anything  you  want.  Wing-walking;  death-drag." 

"What's  that?  Death-drag?" 

"Drop  a  man  onto  the  top  of  a  car  and  drag  him  off  again. 
Bigger  the  crowd,  the  more  you'll  get." 

"You  will  get  your  money's  worth,"  the  limping  man  said. 

The  boys  still  watched  him.  "Were  you  in  the  war?"  the 
first  boy  said. 

The  third  stranger  had  not  spoken  up  to  this  time.  He  now 
said:  "Let's  get  on  to  town." 

"Right,"  the  tall  man  said.  He  said  generally,  in  his  flat, 
dead  voice,  the  same  voice  which  the  three  strangers  all 
seemed  to  use,  as  though  it  were  their  common  language: 
"Where  can  we  get  a  taxi?  Got  one  in  town?" 

"We'll  take  you  to  town,"  the  men  who  had  come  up  in 
the  car  said. 

"We'll  pay,"  the  limping  man  said. 

"Glad  to  do  it,"  the  driver  of  the  car  said.  "I  won't  charge 
you  anything.  You  want  to  go  now?" 

"Sure,"  the  tall  man  said.  The  three  strangers  got  into  the 
back  seat,  the  other  three  in  front.  Three  of  the  boys  fol- 
lowed them  to  the  car. 

"Lemme  hang  on  to  town,  Mr.  Black?"  one  of  the  boys 
said. 

"Hang  on,"  the  driver  said.  The  boys  got  onto  the  running 
boards.  The  car  returned  to  town.  The  three  in  front  could 
hear  the  three  strangers  talking  in  the  back.  They  talked 
quietly,  in  low,  dead  voices,  somehow  quiet  and  urgent,  dis- 
cussing something  among  themselves,  the  tall  man  and  the 


I9o  The  Village 

handsome  one  doing  most  of  the  talking.  The  three  in  front 
heard  only  one  speech  from  the  limping  man:  "I  won't  take 
less .  . ." 

"Sure,"  the  tall  man  said.  He  leaned  forward  and  raised  his 
voice  a  little:  "Where '11 1  find  this  Jones,  this  secretary?" 

The  driver  told  him. 

"Is  the  newspaper  or  the  printing  shop  near  there?  I  want 
some  handbills." 

"I'll  show  you,"  the  driver  said.  "I'll  help  you  get  fixed 
up." 

"Fine,"  the  tall  man  said.  "Come  out  this  afternoon  and 
Til  give  you  a  ride,  if  I  have  time." 

The  car  stopped  at  the  newspaper  office.  "You  can  get 
your  handbills  here,"  the  driver  said. 

"Good,"  the  tall  man  said.  "Is  Jones's  office  on  this  street?" 

"I'll  take  you  there,  too,"  the  driver  said. 

"You  see  about  the  editor,"  the  tall  man  said.  "I  can  find 
Jones,  I  guess."  They  got  out  of  the  car.  "I'll  come  back 
here,"  the  tall  man  said.  He  went  on  down  the  street,  swiftly, 
in  his  dirty  coverall  and  helmet.  Two  other  men  had  joined 
the  group  before  the  newspaper  office.  They  all  entered,  the 
limping  man  leading,  followed  by  the  three  boys. 

"I  want  some  handbills,"  the  limping  man  said.  "Like  this 
one."  He  took  from  his  pocket  a  folded  sheet  of  pink  paper. 
He  opened  it;  the  editor,  the  boys,  the  five  men,  leaned  to 
see  it.  The  lettering  was  black  and  bold: 

DEMON  DUNCAN 
DAREDEVIL  OF  THE  AIR 

DEATH  DEFYING  SHOW  WILL  BE  GIVEN 

UNDER  THE  AUSPICES  OF 

THIS  P.M.  AT  TWO  P.M. 

COME  ONE  COME  ALL  AND  SEE  DEMON  DUNCAN 
DEFY  DEATH  IN  DEATH  DROP  &  DRAG  OF  DEATH 


Death  Drag  191 

"I  want  them  in  one  hour,"  the  limping  man  said. 

"What  you  want  in  this  blank  space?"  the  editor  said. 

"What  you  got  in  this  town?" 

"What  we  got?" 

"What  auspices?  American  Legion?  Rotary  Club?  Cham- 
ber of  Commerce?" 

"We  got  all  of  them." 

"I'll  tell  you  which  one  in  a  minute,  then,"  the  limping 
man  said.  "When  my  partner  gets  back." 

"You  have  to  have  a  guarantee  before  you  put  on  the 
show,  do  you?"  the  editor  said. 

"Why,  sure.  Do  you  think  I  should  put  on  a  daredevil 
without  auspices?  Do  you  think  I  should  for  a  nickel  maybe 
jump  off  the  airplane?" 

"Who's  going  to  jump?"  one  of  the  later  comers  said;  he 
was  a  taxi-driver. 

The  limping  man  looked  at  him.  "Don't  you  worry  about 
that,"  he  said.  "Your  business  is  just  to  pay  the  money.  We 
will  do  all  the  jumping  you  want,  if  you  pay  enough." 

"I  just  asked  which  one  of  you  all  was  the  jumper." 

"Do  I  ask  you  whether  you  pay  me  in  silver  or  in  green- 
backs?" the  limping  man  said.  "Do  I  ask  you?" 

"No,"  the  taxi-driver  said. 

"About  these  bills,"  the  editor  said.  "You  said  you  wanted 
them  in  an  hour." 

"Can't  you  begin  on  them,  and  leave  that  part  out  until 
my  partner  comes  back?" 

"Suppose  he  don't  come  before  they  are  finished?" 

"Well,  that  won't  be  my  fault,  will  it?" 

"All  right,"  the  editor  said.  "Just  so  you  pay  for  them." 

"You  mean,  I  should  pay  without  a  auspices  on  the  hand- 
bill?" 

"I  ain't  in  this  business  for  fun,"  the  editor  said. 

"We'll  wait,"  the  limping  man  said. 


192  The  Village 

They  waited. 

"Were  you  a  flyer  in  the  war,  Mister?"  the  boy  said. 

The  limping  man  turned  upon  the  boy  his  long,  misshapen, 
tragic  face.  "The  war?  Why  should  I  fly  in  a  war?" 

"I  thought  maybe  because  of  your  leg.  Captain  Warren 
limps,  and  he  flew  in  the  war.  I  reckon  you  just  do  it  for 
fun?" 

"For  fun?  What  for  fun?  Fly?  Gruss  Gott.  I  hate  it,  I  wish 
the  man  what  invented  them  was  here;  I  would  put  him  into 
that  machine  yonder  and  I  would  print  on  his  back,  Do  not 
do  it,  one  thousand  times." 

"Why  do  you  do  it,  then?"  the  man  who  had  entered  with 
the  taxi-driver  said. 

"Because  of  that  Republican  Coolidge.  I  was  in  business, 
and  that  Coolidge  ruined  business;  ruined  it.  That's  why. 
For  fun?  Gruss  Gott." 

They  looked  at  the  limping  man.  "I  suppose  you  have  a 
license?"  the  second  late-comer  said. 

The  limping  man  looked  at  him.  "A  license?" 

"Don't  you  have  to  have  a  license  to  fly?" 

"Oh;  a  license.  For  the  airplane  to  fly;  sure,  I  understand. 
Sure.  We  got  one.  You  want  to  see  it?" 

"You're  supposed  to  show  it  to  anybody  that  wants  to  see 
it,  aren't  you?" 

"Why,  sure.  You  want  to  see  it?" 

"Where  is  it?" 

"Where  should  it  be?  It's  nailed  to  the  airplane,  where  the 
government  put  it.  Did  you  thought  maybe  it  was  nailed  to 
me?  Did  you  thought  maybe  I  had  a  engine  on  me  and  maybe 
wings?  It's  on  the  airplane.  Call  a  taxi  and  go  to  the  airplane 
and  look  at  it." 

"I  run  a  taxi,"  the  driver  said. 

"Well,  run  it.  Take  this  gentleman  out  to  the  field  where 
he  can  look  at  the  license  on  the  airplane." 


Death  Drag  193 

"It'll  be  a  quarter,"  the  driver  said.  But  the  limping  man 
was  not  looking  at  the  driver.  He  was  leaning  against  the 
counter.  They  watched  him  take  a  stick  of  gum  from  his 
pocket  and  peel  it.  They  watched  him  put  the  gum  into  his 
mouth.  "I  said  it'll  be  a  quarter,  Mister,"  the  driver  said. 

"Was  you  talking  to  me?"  the  limping  man  said. 

"I  thought  you  wanted  a  taxi  out  to  the  airport." 

"Me?  What  for?  What  do  I  want  to  go  out  to  the  airport 
for?  I  just  come  from  there.  I  ain't  the  one  that  wants  to  see 
that  license.  I  have  already  seen  it.  I  was  there  when  the 
government  nailed  it  onto  the  airplane." 

II 

CAPTAIN  WARREN,  the  ex-army  flyer,  was  coming  out  of  the 
store,  where  he  met  the  tall  man  in  the  dirty  coverall.  Cap- 
tain Warren  told  about  it  in  the  barber  shop  that  night,  when 
the  airplane  was  gone. 

"I  hadn't  seen  him  in  fourteen  years,  not  since  I  left  Eng- 
land for  the  front  in  '17.  'So  it  was  you  that  rolled  out  of 
that  loop  with  two  passengers  and  a  twenty  model  Hisso 
smokepot?'  I  said. 

"  'Who  else  saw  me?'  he  said.  So  he  told  me  about  it,  stand- 
ing there,  looking  over  his  shoulder  every  now  and  then.  He 
was  sick;  a  man  stopped  behind  him  to  let  a  couple  of  ladies 
pass,  and  Jock  whirled  like  he  might  have  shot  the  man  if 
he'd  had  a  gun,  and  while  we  were  in  the  cafe  some  one 
slammed  a  door  at  the  back  and  I  thought  he  would  come 
out  of  his  monkey  suit.  It's  a  little  nervous  trouble  I've  got,' 
he  told  me.  Tm  all  right.'  I  had  tried  to  get  him  to  come  out 
home  with  me  for  dinner,  but  he  wouldn't.  He  said  that  he 
had  to  kind  of  jump  himself  and  eat  before  he  knew  it,  sort 
of.  We  had  started  down  the  street  and  we  were  passing  the 
restaurant  when  he  said:  I'm  going  to  eat,'  and  he  turned 


194  The  Village 

and  ducked  in  like  a  rabbit  and  sat  down  with  his  back  to 
the  wall  and  told  Vernon  to  bring  him  the  quickest  thing  he 
had.  He  drank  three  glasses  of  water  and  then  Vernon 
brought  him  a  milk  bottle  full  and  he  drank  most  of  that 
before  the  dinner  came  up  from  the  kitchen.  When  he  took  off 
his  helmet,  I  saw  that  his  hair  was  pretty  near  white,  and  he 
is  younger  than  I  am.  Or  he  was,  up  there  when  we  were  in 
Canada  training.  Then  he  told  me  what  the  name  of  his 
nervous  trouble  was.  It  was  named  Ginsfarb.  The  little  one; 
the  one  that  jumped  off  the  ladder." 

"What  was  the  trouble?"  we  asked.  "What  were  they 
afraid  of?" 

"They  were  afraid  of  inspectors,"  Warren  said.  "They 
had  no  licenses  at  all." 

"There  was  one  on  the  airplane." 

"Yes.  But  it  did  not  belong  to  that  airplane.  That  one  had 
been  grounded  by  an  inspector  when  Ginsfarb  bought  it. 
The  license  was  for  another  airplane  that  had  been  wrecked, 
and  some  one  had  helped  Ginsfarb  compound  another  felony 
by  selling  the  license  to  him.  Jock  had  lost  his  license  about 
two  years  ago  when  he  crashed  a  big  plane  full  of  Fourth- 
of-July  holidayers.  Two  of  the  engines  quit,  and  he  had  to 
land.  The  airplane  smashed  up  some  and  broke  a  gas  line, 
but  even  then  they  would  have  been  all  right  if  a  passenger 
hadn't  got  scared  (it  was  about  dusk)  and  struck  a  match. 
Jock  was  not  so  much  to  blame,  but  the  passengers  all  burned 
to  death,  and  the  government  is  strict.  So  he  couldn't  get  a 
license,  and  he  couldn't  make  Ginsfarb  even  pay  to  take  out 
a  parachute  rigger's  license.  So  they  had  no  license  at  all;  if 
they  were  ever  caught,  they'd  all  go  to  the  penitentiary." 

"No  wonder  his  hair  was  white,"  some  one  said. 

"That  wasn't  what  turned  it  white,"  Warren  said.  "I'll 
tell  you  about  that.  So  they'd  go  to  little  towns  like  this  one, 
fast,  find  out  if  there  was  anybody  that  might  catch  them, 


Death  Drag  195 

and  if  there  wasn't,  they'd  put  on  the  show  and  then  clear 
out  and  go  to  another  town,  staying  away  from  the  cities. 
They'd  come  in  and  get  handbills  printed  while  Jock  and 
the  other  one  would  try  to  get  underwritten  by  some  local 
organization.  They  wouldn't  let  Ginsfarb  do  this  part, 
because  he'd  stick  out  for  his  price  too  long  and  they'd  be 
afraid  to  risk  it.  So  the  other  two  would  do  this,  get  what 
they  could,  and  if  they  could  not  get  what  Ginsfarb  told 
them  to,  they'd  take  what  they  could  and  then  try  to  keep 
Ginsfarb  fooled  until  it  was  too  late.  Well,  this  time  Ginsfarb 
kicked  up.  I  guess  they  had  done  it  too  much  on  him. 

"So  I  met  Jock  on  the  street.  He  looked  bad;  I  offered 
him  a  drink,  but  he  said  he  couldn't  even  smoke  any  more. 
All  he  could  do  was  drink  water;  he  said  he  usually  drank 
about  a  gallon  during  the  night,  getting  up  for  it. 

"  'You  look  like  you  might  have  to  jump  yourself  to 
sleep,  too,'  I  said. 

"  'No,  I  sleep  fine.  The  trouble  is,  the  nights  aren't  long 
enough.  I'd  like  to  live  at  the  North  Pole  from  September 
to  April,  and  at  the  South  Pole  from  April  to  September. 
That  would  just  suit  me.' 

"  'You  aren't  going  to  last  long  enough  to  get  there,'  I 
said. 

"  'I  guess  so.  It's  a  good  engine.  I  see  to  that.' 

"  'I  mean,  you'll  be  in  jail.' 

"Then  he  said:  'Do  you  think  so?  Do  you  guess  I  could?' 

"We  went  on  to  the  cafe.  He  told  me  about  the  racket, 
and  showed  me  one  of  those  Demon  Duncan  handbills. 
'Demon  Duncan?'  I  said. 

"  'Why  not?  Who  would  pay  to  see  a  man  named  Gins- 
farb jump  from  a  ship?' 

"  'I'd  pay  to  see  that  before  I'd  pay  to  see  a  man  named 
Duncan  do  it,'  I  said. 

"He  hadn't  thought  of  that.  Then  he  began  to  drink  water, 


196  The  Village 

and  he  told  me  that  Ginsfarb  had  wanted  a  hundred  dollars 
for  the  stunt,  but  that  he  and  the  other  fellow  only  got  sixty. 

"  'What  are  you  going  to  do  about  it? '  I  said. 

"  'Try  to  keep  him  fooled  and  get  this  thing  over  and  get 
to  hell  away  from  here,'  he  said. 

"  'Which  one  is  Ginsfarb?'  I  said.  'The  little  one  that  looks 
like  a  shark?' 

"Then  he  began  to  drink  water.  He  emptied  my  glass  too 
at  one  shot  and  tapped  it  on  the  table.  Vernon  brought  him 
another  glass.  'You  must  be  thirsty,'  Vernon  said. 

"  'Have  you  got  a  pitcher  of  it?'  Jock  said. 

"  'I  could  fill  you  a  milk  bottle.' 

"  'Let's  have  it,'  Jock  said.  'And  give  me  another  glass 
while  I'm  waiting.'  Then  he  told  me  about  Ginsfarb,  why 
his  hair  had  turned  gray. 

"  'How  long  have  you  been  doing  this?'  I  said. 

"  'Ever  since  the  2 6th  of  August.' 

"  'This  is  just  January,'  I  said. 

"'What  about  it?' 

"  'The  2 6th  of  August  is  not  six  months  past.'  " 

He  looked  at  me.  Vernon  brought  the  bottle  of  water. 
Jock  poured  a  glass  and  drank  it.  He  began  to  shake,  sitting 
there,  shaking  and  sweating,  trying  to  fill  the  glass  again. 
Then  he  told  me  about  it,  talking  fast,  filling  the  glass  and 
drinking. 

"Jake  (the  other  one's  name  is  Jake  something;  the  good- 
looking  one)  drives  the  car,  the  rented  car.  Ginsfarb  swaps 
onto  the  car  from  the  ladder.  Jock  said  he  would  have  to  fly 
the  ship  into  position  over  a  Ford  or  a  Chevrolet  running  on 
three  cylinders,  trying  to  keep  Ginsfarb  from  jumping  from 
twenty  or  thirty  feet  away  in  order  to  save  gasoline  in  the 
ship  and  in  the  rented  car.  Ginsfarb  goes  out  on  the  bottom 
wing  with  his  ladder,  fastens  the  ladder  onto  a  strut,  hooks 
himself  into  the  other  end  of  the  ladder,  and  drops  off;  every- 
body on  the  ground  thinks  that  he  has  done  what  they  all 


Death  Drag  197 

came  to  see:  fallen  off  and  killed  himself.  That's  what  he 
calls  his  death-drop.  Then  he  swaps  from  the  ladder  onto  the 
top  of  the  car,  and  the  ship  comes  back  and  he  catches  the 
ladder  and  is  dragged  off  again.  That's  his  death-drag. 

"Well,  up  till  the  day  when  Jock's  hair  began  to  turn 
white,  Ginsfarb,  as  a  matter  of  economy,  would  do  it  all  at 
once;  he  would  get  into  position  above  the  car  and  drop  off 
on  his  ladder  and  then  make  contact  with  the  car,  and  some- 
times Jock  said  the  ship  would  not  be  in  the  air  three  min- 
utes. Well,  on  this  day  the  rented  car  was  a  bum  or  some- 
thing; anyway,  Jock  had  to  circle  the  field  four  or  five  times 
while  the  car  was  getting  into  position,  and  Ginsfarb,  seeing 
his  money  being  blown  out  the  exhaust  pipes,  finally  refused 
to  wait  for  Jock's  signal  and  dropped  off  anyway.  It  was  all 
right,  only  the  distance  between  the  ship  and  the  car  was  not 
as  long  as  the  rope  ladder.  So  Ginsfarb  hit  on  the  car,  and 
Jock  had  just  enough  soup  to  zoom  and  drag  Ginsfarb,  still 
on  the  ladder,  over  a  high-power  electric  line,  and  he  held 
the  ship  in  that  climb  for  twenty  minutes  while  Ginsfarb 
climbed  back  up  the  ladder  with  his  leg  broken.  He  held  the 
ship  in  a  climb  with  his  knees,  with  the  throttle  wide  open 
and  the  engine  revving  about  eleven  hundred,  while  he 
reached  back  and  opened  that  cupboard  behind  the  cockpit 
and  dragged  out  a  suitcase  and  propped  the  stick  so  he  could 
get  out  on  the  wing  and  drag  Ginsfarb  back  into  the  ship. 
He  got  Ginsfarb  in  the  ship  and  on  the  ground  again  and 
Ginsfarb  says:  'How  far  did  we  go?'  and  Jock  told  him  they 
had  flown  with  full  throttle  for  thirty  minutes  and  Ginsfarb 
says:  'Will  you  ruin  me  yet?'  " 


III 

THE  REST  of  this  is  composite.  It  is  what  we  (groundlings, 
dwellers  in  and  backbone  of  a  small  town  interchangeable 
with  and  duplicate  of  ten  thousand  little  dead  clottings  of 


198  The  Village 

human  life  about  the  land)  saw,  refined  and  clarified  by  the 
expert,  the  man  who  had  himself  seen  his  own  lonely  and 
scudding  shadow  upon  the  face  of  the  puny  and  remote 
earth. 

The  three  strangers  arrived  at  the  field,  in  the  rented  car. 
When  they  got  out  of  the  car,  they  were  arguing  in  tense, 
dead  voices,  the  pilot  and  the  handsome  man  against  the  man 
who  limped.  Captain  Warren  said  they  were  arguing  about 
the  money. 

"I  want  to  see  it,"  Ginsfarb  said.  They  stood  close;  the 
handsome  man  took  something  from  his  pocket. 

"There.  There  it  is.  See?"  he  said. 

"Let  me  count  it  myself,"  Ginsfarb  said. 

"Come  on,  come  on,"  the  pilot  hissed,  in  his  dead,  tense 
voice.  "We  tell  you  we  got  the  money!  Do  you  want  an 
inspector  to  walk  in  and  take  the  money  and  the  ship  too  and 
put  us  in  jail?  Look  at  all  these  people  waiting." 

"You  fooled  me  before,"  Ginsfarb  said. 

"All  right,"  the  pilot  said.  "Give  it  to  him.  Give  him  his 
ship  too.  And  he  can  pay  for  the  car  when  he  gets  back  to 
town.  We  can  get  a  ride  in;  there's  a  train  out  of  here  in 
fifteen  minutes." 

"You  fooled  me  once  before,"  Ginsfarb  said. 

"But  we're  not  fooling  you  now.  Come  on.  Look  at  all 
these  people." 

They  moved  toward  the  airplane,  Ginsfarb  limping  ter- 
rifically, his  back  stubborn,  his  face  tragic,  outraged,  cold. 
There  was  a  good  crowd:  country  people  in  overalls;  the 
men  a  general  dark  clump  against  which  the  bright  dresses 
of  the  women,  the  young  girls,  showed.  The  small  boys  and 
several  men  were  already  surrounding  the  airplane.  We 
watched  the  limping  man  begin  to  take  objects  from  the  body 
of  it:  a  parachute,  a  rope  ladder.  The  handsome  man  went 
to  the  propeller.  The  pilot  got  into  the  back  seat. 


Death  Drag  199 

"Off!"  he  said,  sudden  and  sharp.  "Stand  back,  folks. 
We're  going  to  wring  the  old  bird's  neck." 

They  tried  three  times  to  crank  the  engine. 

"I  got  a  mule,  Mister,"  a  countryman  said.  "How  much'll 
you  pay  for  a  tow?" 

The  three  strangers  did  not  laugh.  The  limping  man  was 
busy  attaching  the  rope  ladder  to  one  wing. 

"You  can't  tell  me,"  a  countrywoman  said.  "Even  he  ain't 
that  big  a  fool." 

The  engine  started  then.  It  seemed  to  lift  bodily  from  the 
ground  a  small  boy  who  stood  behind  it  and  blow  him  aside 
like  a  leaf.  We  watched  it  turn  and  trundle  down  the  field. 

"You  can't  tell  me  that  thing's  flying,"  the  countrywoman 
said.  "I  reckon  the  Lord  give  me  eyes.  I  can  see  it  ain't  flying. 
You  folks  have  been  fooled." 

"Wait,"  another  voice  said.  "He's  got  to  turn  into  the 
wind." 

"Ain't  there  as  much  wind  right  there  or  right  here  as 
there  is  down  yonder?"  the  woman  said.  But  it  did  fly.  It 
turned  back  toward  us;  the  noise  became  deafening.  When 
it  came  broadside  on  to  us,  it  did  not  seem  to  be  going  f  A, 
yet  we  could  see  daylight  beneath  the  wheels  and  the  earth. 
But  it  was  not  going  fast;  it  appeared  rather  to  hang  gently 
just  above  the  earth  until  we  saw  that,  beyond  and  beneath 
it,  trees  and  earth  in  panorama  were  fleeing  backward  at 
dizzy  speed,  and  then  it  tilted  and  shot  skyward  with  a  noise 
like  a  circular  saw  going  into  a  white  oak  log.  "There  ain't 
nobody  in  it!"  the  countrywoman  said.  "You  can't  tell  me!" 

The  third  man,  the  handsome  one  in  the  cap,  had  got  into 
the  rented  car.  We  all  knew  it:  a  battered  thing  which  the 
owner  would  rent  to  any  one  who  would  make  a  deposit  of 
ten  dollars.  He  drove  to  the  end  of  the  field,  faced  down  the 
runwav,  and  stopped.  We  looked  back  at  the  airplane.  It 


2oo  The  Village 

was  high,  coming  back  toward  us;  some  one  cried  suddenly, 
his  voice  puny  and  thin:  "There!  Out  on  the  wing!  See?'' 

"It  ain't!"  the  countrywoman  said.  "I  don't  believe  it!" 

"You  saw  them  get  in  it,"  some  one  said. 

"I  don't  believe  it!"  the  woman  said. 

Then  we  sighed;  we  said,  "Aaahhhhhhh";  beneath  the 
wing  of  the  airplane  there  was  a  falling  dot.  We  knew  it  was 
a  man.  Some  way  we  knew  that  that  lonely,  puny,  falling 
shape  was  that  of  a  living  man  like  ourselves.  It  fell.  It 
seemed  to  fall  for  years,  yet  when  it  checked  suddenly  up 
without  visible  rope  or  cord,  it  was  less  far  from  the  airplane 
than  was  the  end  of  the  delicate  pen-slash  of  the  profiled 
wing. 

"It  ain't  a  man!"  the  woman  shrieked. 

"You  know  better,"  the  man  said.  "You  saw  him  get  in  it." 

"I  don't  care!"  the  woman  cried.  "It  ain't  a  man!  You 
take  me  right  home  this  minute!" 

The  rest  is  hard  to  tell.  Not  because  we  saw  so  little;  we 
saw  everything  that  happened,  but  because  we  had  so  little 
in  experience  to  postulate  it  with.  We  saw  that  battered 
rented  car  moving  down  the  field,  going  faster,  jouncing  in 
the  broken  January  mud,  then  the  sound  of  the  airplane 
blotted  it,  reduced  it  to  immobility;  we  saw  the  dangling 
ladder  and  the  shark-faced  man  swinging  on  it  beneath  the 
death-colored  airplane.  The  end  of  the  ladder  raked  right 
across  the  top  of  the  car,  from  end  to  end,  with  the  limping 
man  on  the  ladder  and  the  capped  head  of  the  handsome 
man  leaning  out  of  the  car.  And  the  end  of  the  field  was 
coming  nearer,  and  the  airplane  was  travelling  faster  than  the 
car,  passing  it.  And  nothing  happened.  "Listen!"  some  one 
cried.  "They  are  talking  to  one  another!" 

Captain  Warren  told  us  what  they  were  talking  about,  the 
two  Jews  yelling  back  and  forth  at  one  another:  the  shark- 


Death  Drag  201 

faced  man  on  the  dangling  ladder  that  looked  like  a  cobweb, 
the  other  one  in  the  car;  the  fence,  the  end  of  the  field,  com- 
ing closer. 

"Come  on!"  the  man  in  the  car  shouted. 

"What  did  they  pay?" 

"Jump!" 

"If  they  didn't  pay  that  hundred,  I  won't  do  it." 

Then  the  airplane  zoomed,  roaring,  the  dangling  figure  on 
the  gossamer  ladder  swinging  beneath  it.  It  circled  the  field 
twice  while  the  man  got  the  car  into  position  again.  Again 
the  car  started  down  the  field;  again  the  airplane  came  down 
with  its  wild;  circular-saw  drone  which  died  into  a  splutter 
as  the  ladder  and  the  clinging  man  swung  up  to  the  car  from 
behind;  again  we  heard  the  two  puny  voices  shrieking  at  one 
another  with  a  quality  at  once  ludicrous  and  horrible:  the 
one  coming  out  of  the  very  air  itself,  shrieking  about  some- 
thing sweated  out  of  the  earth  and  without  value  anywhere 
else: 

"How  much  did  you  say?" 

"Jump!" 

"What?  How  much  did  they  pay?" 

"Nothing!  Jump!" 

"Nothing?"  the  man  on  the  ladder  wailed  in  a  fading,  out- 
raged shriek.  "Nothing?"  Again  the  airplane  was  dragging 
the  ladder  irrevocably  past  the  car,  approaching  the  end  of 
the  field,  the  fences,  the  long  barn  with  its  rotting  roof.  Sud- 
denly we  saw  Captain  Warren  beside  us;  he  was  using  words 
we  had  never  heard  him  use. 

"He's  got  the  stick  between  his  knees,"  Captain  Warren 
said.  "Exalted  suzerain  of  mankind;  saccharine  and  sacred 
symbol  of  eternal  rest."  We  had  forgot  about  the  pilot,  the 
man  still  in  the  airplane.  We  saw  the  airplane,  tilted  upward, 
the  pilot  standing  upright  in  the  back  seat,  leaning  over  the 
side  and  shaking  both  hands  at  the  man  on  the  ladder.  We 


202  The  Village 

could  hear  him  yelling  now  as  again  the  man  on  the  ladder 
was  dragged  over  the  car  and  past  it,  shrieking: 

"I  won't  do  it!  I  won't  do  it!"  He  was  still  shrieking  when 
the  airplane  zoomed;  we  saw  him,  a  diminishing  and  shriek- 
ing spot  against  the  sky  above  the  long  roof  of  the  barn:  "I 
won't  do  it!  I  won't  do  it!"  Before,  when  the  speck  left  the 
airplane,  falling,  to  be  snubbed  up  by  the  ladder,  we  knew 
that  it  was  a  living  man;  again,  when  the  speck  left  the  lad- 
der, falling,  we  knew  that  it  was  a  living  man,  and  we  knew 
that  there  was  no  ladder  to  snub  him  up  now.  We  saw  hin? 
falling  against  the  cold,  empty  January  sky  until  the  sil- 
houette of  the  barn  absorbed  him;  even  from  here,  his  atti- 
tude froglike,  outraged,  implacable.  From  somewhere  in  the 
crowd  a  woman  screamed,  though  the  sound  was  blotted  out 
by  the  sound  of  the  airplane.  It  reared  skyward  with  its  wild, 
tearing  noise,  the  empty  ladder  swept  backward  beneath  it. 
The  sound  of  the  engine  was  like  a  groan,  a  groan  of  relief 
and  despair. 

IV 

CAPTAIN  WARREN  told  us  in  the  barber  shop  on  that  Satur- 
day night. 

"Did  he  really  jump  off,  onto  that  barn?"  we  asked  him. 

"Yes.  He  jumped.  He  wasn't  thinking  about  being  killed, 
or  even  hurt.  That's  why  he  wasn't  hurt.  He  was  too  mad, 
too  in  a  hurry  to  receive  justice.  He  couldn't  wait  to  fly  back 
down.  Providence  knew  that  he  was  too  busy  and  that  he 
deserved  justice,  so  Providence  put  that  barn  there  with  the 
rotting  roof.  He  wasn't  even  thinking  about  hitting  the  barn; 
if  he'd  tried  to,  let  go  of  his  belief  in  a  cosmic  balance  to 
bother  about  landing,  he  would  have  missed  the  barn  and 
killed  himselfe" 

It  didr\  hurt  him  at  all,  save  for  a  long  scratch  on  his  face 


Death  Drag  205 

that  bled  a  lot,  and  his  overcoat  was  torn  completely  down 
the  back,  as  though  the  tear  down  the  back  of  the  helmet  had 
run  on  down  the  overcoat.  He  came  out  of  the  barn  running 
before  we  got  to  it.  He  hobbled  right  among  us,  with  his 
bloody  face,  his  arms  waving,  his  coat  dangling  from  either 
shoulder. 

"Where  is  that  secretary?"  he  said. 

"What  secretary?" 

"That  American  Legion  secretary."  He  went  on,  limping 
fast,  toward  where  a  crowd  stood  about  three  women  who 
had  fainted.  "You  said  you  would  pay  a  hundred  dollars  to 
see  me  swap  to  that  car.  We  pay  rent  on  the  car  and  all,  and 
now  you  would — " 

"You  got  sixty  dollars,"  some  one  said. 

The  man  looked  at  him.  "Sixty?  I  said  one  hundred.  Then 
you  would  let  me  believe  it  was  one  hundred  and  it  was 
just  sixty;  you  would  see  me  risk  my  life  for  sixty  dollars. 
.  .  ."  The  airplane  was  down;  none  of  us  were  aware  of  it 
until  the  pilot  sprang  suddenly  upon  the  man  who  limped. 
He  jerked  the  man  around  and  knocked  him  down  before 
we  could  grasp  the  pilot.  We  held  the  pilot,  struggling, 
crying,  the  tears  streaking  his  dirty,  unshaven  face.  Captain 
Warren  was  suddenly  there,  holding  the  pilot. 

"Stop  it!  "he  said.  "Stop  it!" 

The  pilot  ceased.  He  stared  at  Captain  Warren,  then  he 
slumped  and  sat  on  the  ground  in  his  thin,  dirty  garment, 
with  his  unshaven  face,  dirty,  gaunt,  with  his  sick  eyes, 
crying.  "Go  away,"  Captain  Warren  said.  "Let  him  alone 
for  a  minute." 

We  went  away,  back  to  the  other  man,  the  one  who 
limped.  They  had  lifted  him  and  he  drew  the  two  halves 
of  his  overcoat  forward  and  looked  at  them.  Then  he  said: 
"I  want  some  chewing  gum." 

Some  one  gave  him  a  stick.  Another  offered  him  a  ciga- 


204  The  Village 

rette.  "Thanks,"  he  said.  "I  don't  burn  up  no  money.  I  ain't 
got  enough  of  it  yet."  He  put  the  gum  into  his  mouth.  "You 
would  take  advantage  of  me.  If  you  thought  I  would  risk 
my  life  for  sixty  dollars,  you  fool  yourself." 

"Give  him  the  rest  of  it,"  some  one  said.  "Here's  my 
share." 

The  limping  man  did  not  look  around.  "Make  it  up  to 
a  hundred,  and  I  will  swap  to  the  car  like  on  the  handbill," 
he  said. 

Somewhere  a  woman  screamed  behind  him.  She  began 
to  laugh  and  to  cry  at  the  same  time.  "Don't  .  .  ."  she  said, 
laughing  and  crying  at  the  same  time.  "Don't  let  .  .  ."  until 
they  led  her  away.  Still  the  limping  man  had  not  moved. 
He  wiped  his  face  on  his  cuff  and  he  was  looking  at  his 
bloody  sleeve  when  Captain  Warren  came  up. 

"How  much  is  he  short?"  \Varren  said.  They  told  Warren. 
He  took  out  some  money  and  gave  it  to  the  limping  man. 

"You  want  I  should  swap  to  the  car?"  he  said. 

"No,"  Warren  said.  "You  get  that  crate  out  of  here  quick 
as  you  can." 

"Well,  that's  your  business,"  the  limping  man  said.  "I  got 
witnesses  I  offered  to  swap."  He  moved;  we  made  way  and 
watched  him,  in  his  severed  and  dangling  overcoat,  approach 
the  airplane.  It  was  on  the  runway,  the  engine  running.  The 
third  man  was  already  in  the  front  seat.  We  watched  the 
limping  man  crawl  terrifically  in  beside  him.  They  sat  there, 
looking  forward. 

The  pilot  began  to  get  up.  Warren  was  standing  beside 
him.  "Ground  it,"  Warren  said.  "You  are  coming  home 
with  me." 

"I  guess  we'd  better  get  on,"  the  pilot  said.  He  did  not 
look  at  Warren.  Then  he  put  out  his  hand.  "Well  .  .  ."  he 
said. 

Warren  did  not  take  his  hand.  "You  come  on  home  with 
me,"  he  said. 


Death  Drag  205 

"Who'd  take  care  of  that  bastard?" 

"Who  wants  to?" 

"I'll  get  him  right,  some  day.  Where  I  can  beat  hell  out 
of  him." 

"Jock,"  Warren  said. 

"No,"  the  other  said. 

"Have  you  got  an  overcoat?" 

"Sure  I  have." 

"You're  a  liar."  Warren  began  to  pull  off  his  overcoat. 

"No,"  the  other  said;  "I  don't  need  it."  He  went  on  toward 
the  machine.  "See  you  some  time,"  he  said  over  his  shoulder. 
We  watched  him  get  in,  heard  an  airplane  come  to  life,  come 
alive.  It  passed  us,  already  off  the  ground.  The  pilot  jerked 
his  hand  once,  stiffly;  the  two  heads  in  the  front  seat  did  not 
turn  nor  move.  Then  it  was  gone,  the  sound  was  gone. 

Warren  turned.  "What  about  that  car  they  rented?"  he 
said. 

"He  give  me  a  quarter  to  take  it  back  to  town,"  a  boy  said. 

"Can  you  drive  it?" 

"Yes,  sir.  I  drove  it  out  here.  I  showed  him  where  to 


rent  it." 


"The  one  that  jumped?" 

"Yes,  sir."  The  boy  looked  a  little  aside.  "Only  I'm  a  little 
scared  to  take  it  back.  I  don't  reckon  you  could  come  with 
me." 

"Why,  scared?"  Warren  said. 

"That  fellow  never  paid  nothing  down  on  it,  like  Mr. 
Harris  wanted.  He  told  Mr.  Harris  he  might  not  use  it,  but 
if  he  did  use  it  in  his  show,  he  would  pay  Mr.  Harris  twenty 
dollars  for  it  instead  of  ten  like  Mr.  Harris  wanted.  He  told 
me  to  take  it  back  and  tell  Mr.  Harris  he  never  used  the  car, 
And  I  don't  know  if  Mr.  Harris  will  like  it.  He  might  gel 
mad." 


Elly 


BORDERING  THE  SHEER  DROP  of  the  precipice,  the  wooden 
railing  looked  like  a  child's  toy.  It  followed  the  curving 
road  in  thread-like  embrace,  passing  the  car  in  a  flimsy  blur. 
Then  it  flicked  behind  and  away  like  a  taut  ribbon  cut  with 
scissors. 

Then  they  passed  the  sign,  the  first  sign,  Mills  City.  6  mi 
and  Elly  thought,  with  musing  and  irrevocable  astonishment, 
'Now  we  are  almost  there.  It  is  too  late  now';  looking  at 
Paul  beside  her,  his  hands  on  the  wheel,  his  face  in  profile 
as  he  watched  the  fleeing  road.  She  said,  *  Well.  What  can  I 
do  to  make  you  marry  me,  Paul?"  thinking  'There  was  a 
man  plowing  in  that  field,  watching  us  when  we  came  out 
of  those  woods  with  Paul  carrying  the  motor-robe,  and  got 
back  into  the  car,'  thinking  this  quietly,  with  a  certain  de- 
tachment and  inattention,  because  there  was  something  else 
about  to  obliterate  it.  'Something  dreadful  that  I  have  for- 
gotten about/  she  thought,  watching  the  swift  and  increasing 
signs  which  brought  Mills  City  nearer  and  nearer.  'Some- 
thing terrible  that  I  shall  remember  in  a  minute,'  saying 
aloud,  quietly:  "There's  nothing  else  I  can  do  now,  is  there?" 

Still  Paul  did  not  look  at  her.  "No,"  he  said.  "There's 
nothing  else  you  can  do." 

Then  she  remembered  what  it  was  she  had  forgotten.  She 
remembered  her  grandmother,  thinking  of  the  old  woman 

207 


2o8  The  Village 

with  her  dead  hearing  and  her  inescapable  cold  eyes  waiting 
at  Mills  City,  with  amazed  and  quiet  despair:  'How  could 
I  have  ever  forgot  about  her?  How  could  I  have?  How 
could  I?' 

She  was  eighteen.  She  lived  in  Jefferson,  two  hundred 
miles  away,  with  her  father  and  mother  and  grandmother, 
in  a  biggish  house.  It  had  a  deep  veranda  with  screening 
vines  and  no  lights.  In  this  shadow  she  half  lay  almost  nightly 
with  a  different  man — youths  and  young  men  of  the  town 
at  first,  but  later  with  almost  anyone,  any  transient  in  the 
small  town  whom  she  met  by  either  convention  or  by 
chance,  provided  his  appearance  was  decent.  She  would 
never  ride  in  their  cars  with  them  at  night,  and  presently 
they  all  believed  that  they  knew  why,  though  they  did  not 
always  give  up  hope  at  once — until  the  courthouse  clock 
struck  eleven.  Then  for  perhaps  five  minutes  longer  they 
(who  had  been  practically  speechless  for  an  hour  or  more) 
would  talk  in  urgent  whispers: 

"You  must  go  now." 

"No.  Not  now." 

"Yes.  Now." 

"Why?" 

"Because.  I'm  tired.  I  want  to  go  to  bed." 

"I  see.  So  far,  and  no  mother.  Is  that  it?" 

"Maybe."  In  the  shadow  now  she  would  be  alert,  cool, 
already  fled,  without  moving,  beyond  some  secret  reserve 
of  laughter.  And  he  would  leave,  and  she  would  enter  the 
dark  house  and  look  up  at  the  single  square  of  light  which 
fell  upon  the  upper  hallway,  and  change  completely.  Wearily 
now,  with  the  tread  almost  of  an  old  woman,  she  would 
mount  the  stairs  and  pass  the  open  door  of  the  lighted  room 
where  her  grandmother  sat,  erect,  an  open  book  in  her 
hands,  facing  the  hall.  Usually  she  did  not  look  into  the 
room  when  she  passed.  But  now  *nd  then  she  did.  Then 


Elly  209 

for  an  instant  they  would  look  full  at  one  another:  the  old 
woman  cold,  piercing;  the  girl  weary,  spent,  her  face,  her 
dark  dilated  eyes,  filled  with  impotent  hatred.  Then  she 
would  go  on  and  enter  her  own  room  and  lean  for  a  time 
against  the  door,  hearing  the  grandmother's  light  click  off 
presently,  sometimes  crying  silently  and  hopelessly,  whis- 
pering, "The  old  bitch.  The  old  bitch."  Then  this  would 
pass.  She  would  undress  and  look  at  her  face  in  the  mirror, 
examining  her  mouth  now  pale  of  paint  and  heavy,  flattened 
(so  she  would  believe)  and  weary  and  dulled  with  kissing, 
thinking  'My  God.  Why  do  I  do  it?  What  is  the  matter 
with  me?'  thinking  of  how  tomorrow  she  must  face  the  old 
woman  again  with  the  mark  of  last  night  upon  her  mouth 
like  bruises,  with  a  feeling  of  the  pointlessness  and  emptiness 
of  life  more  profound  than  the  rage  or  the  sense  of  perse- 
cution. 

Then  one  afternoon  at  the  home  of  a  girl  friend  she  met 
Paul  de  Montigny.  After  he  departed  the  two  girls  were 
alone.  Now  they  looked  at  one  another  quietly,  like  two 
swordsmen,  with  veiled  eyes. 

"So  you  like  him,  do  you?"  the  friend  said.  "You've  got 
queer  taste,  haven't  you?" 

"Like  who?"  Elly  said.  "I  don't  know  who  you  are  talk- 
ing about." 

"Oh  yeah?"  the  friend  said.  "You  didn't  notice  his  hair 
then.  Like  a  knitted  cap.  And  his  lips.  Blubber,  almost."  Elly 
looked  at  her. 

"What  are  you  talking  about?"  Elly  said. 

"Nothing,"  the  other  said.  She  glanced  toward  the  hall, 
then  she  took  a  cigarette  from  the  front  of  her  dress  and  lit 
it.  "I  don't  know  anything  about  it.  I  just  heard  it,  too.  How 
his  uncle  killed  a  man  once  that  accused  him  of  having  nigger 
blood." 

"You're  lying,"  Elly  said. 


210  The  Village 

The  other  expelled  smoke.  "All  right.  Ask  your  grand- 
mother about  his  family.  Didn't  she  used  to  live  in  Louisiana 
too?" 

"What  about  you?"  Elly  said.  "You  invited  him  into  your 
house." 

"I  wasn't  hid  in  the  cloak  closet,  kissing  him,  though." 

"Oh,  yeah?"  Elly  said.  "Maybe  you  couldn't." 

"Not  till  you  got  your  face  out  of  the  way,  anyhow,"  the 
other  said. 

That  night  she  and  Paul  sat  on  the  screened  and  shadowed 
veranda.  But  at  eleven  o'clock  it  was  she  who  was  urgent 
and  tense:  "No!  No!  Please.  Please." 

"Oh,  come  on.  What  are  you  afraid  of?" 

"Yes.  I'm  afraid.  Go,  please.  Please." 

"Tomorrow,  then?" 

"No.  Not  tomorrow  or  any  time." 

"Yes.  Tomorrow." 

This  time  she  did  not  look  in  when  she  passed  her  grand- 
mother's door.  Neither  did  she  lean  against  her  own  door 
to  cry.  But  she  was  panting,  saying  aloud  against  the  door 
in  thin  exultation:  "A  nigger.  A  nigger.  I  wonder  what  she 
would  say  if  she  knew  about  that." 

The  next  afternoon  Paul  walked  up  onto  the  veranda. 
Elly  was  sitting  in  the  swing,  her  grandmother  in  a  chair 
nearby.  She  rose  and  met  Paul  at  the  steps.  "Why  did  you 
come  here?"  she  said.  "Why  did  you?"  Then  she  turned 
and  seemed  to  watch  herself  walking  before  him  toward  the 
thin  old  woman  sitting  bolt  upright,  sitting  bolt  and  impla- 
cably chaste  in  that  secret  place,  peopled  with  ghosts,  very 
likely  to  Elly  at  any  given  moment  uncountable  and  un- 
namable,  who  might  well  have  owned  one  single  mouth. 
She  leaned  down,  screaming:  "This  is  Mr.  de  Montigny, 
Grandmother! " 

"What?" 


Elly  2 1 1 

"Mr.  de  Montigny!  From  Louisiana!"  she  screamed,  and 
saw  the  grandmother,  without  moving  below  the  hips,  start 
violently  backward  as  a  snake  does  to  strike.  That  was  in 
the  afternoon.  That  night  Elly  quitted  the  veranda  for  the 
first  time.  She  and  Paul  were  in  a  close  clump  of  shrubbery 
on  the  lawn;  in  the  wild  close  dark  for  that  instant  Elly 
was  lost,  her  blood  aloud  with  desperation  and  exultation 
and  vindication  too,  talking  inside  her  at  the  very  brink  of 
surrender  loud  as  a  voice:  "I  wish  she  were  here  to  see!  I 
wish  she  were  here  to  see!"  when  something — there  had 
been  no  sound — shouted  at  her  and  she  made  a  mad  awkward 
movement  of  recovery.  The  grandmother  stood  just  behind 
and  above  them.  When  she  had  arrived,  how  long  she  had 
been  there,  they  did  not  know.  But  there  she  stood,  saying 
nothing,  in  the  long  anti-climax  while  Paul  departed  without 
haste  and  Elly  stood,  thinking  stupidly,  'I  am  caught  in  sin 
without  even  having  time  to  sin.'  Then  she  was  in  her  room, 
leaning  against  the  door,  trying  to  still  her  breathing,  listen- 
ing for  the  grandmother  to  mount  the  stairs  and  go  to  her 
father's  room.  But  the  old  woman's  footsteps  ceased  at  her 
own  door.  Elly  went  to  her  bed  and  lay  upon  it  without 
undressing,  still  panting,  the  blood  still  aloud.  'So/  she 
thought,  'it  will  be  tomorrow.  She  will  tell  him  in  the  morn- 
ing.' Then  she  began  to  writhe,  to  toss  lightly  from  side  to 
side.  'I  didn't  even  have  a  chance  to  sin,'  she  thought,  with 
panting  and  amazed  regret.  'She  thinks  I  did  and  she  will  tell 
that  I  did,  yet  I  am  still  virgin.  She  drove  me  to  it,  then  pre- 
vented me  at  the  last  moment.'  Then  she  was  lying  with  the 
sun  in  her  eyes  still  fully  dressed.  'So  it  will  be  this  morning, 
today/  she  thought  dully.  'My  God.  How  could  I.  How 
could  I.  I  don't  want  any  man,  anything.' 

She  was  waiting  in  the  dining-room  when  her  father  came 
down  to  breakfast.  He  said  nothing,  apparently  knew  noth- 
ing. 'Maybe  it's  mother  she  told/  Elly  thought.  But  after  a 


zi2  The  Village 

while  her  mother,  too,  appeared  and  departed  for  town  also, 
saying  nothing.  'So  it  has  not  been  yet,'  she  thought,  mount- 
ing the  stairs.  Her  grandmother's  door  was  closed.  "When 
she  opened  it,  the  old  woman  was  sitting  up  in  bed,  reading 
a  newspaper;  she  looked  up,  cold,  still,  implacable,  while 
Elly  screamed  at  her  in  the  empty  house:  "What  else  can  I 
do,  in  this  little  dead,  hopeless  town?  I'll  work.  I  don't  want 
to  be  idle.  Just  find  me  a  job — anything,  anywhere,  so  that 
it's  so  far  away  that  I'll  never  have  to  hear  the  word  Jeffer- 
son again."  She  was  named  for  the  grandmother — Ailanthia, 
though  the  old  woman  had  not  heard  her  own  name  or  her 
granddaughter's  or  anyone  else's  in  almost  fifteen  years  save 
when  it  was  screamed  at  her  as  Elly  now  screamed:  "It 
hadn't  even  happened  last  night!  Won't  you  believe  me? 
That's  it.  It  hadn't  even  happened!  At  least,  I  would  have 
had  something,  something  .  .  ."  with  the  other  watching  her 
with  that  cold,  fixed,  immobile,  inescapable  gaze  of  the  very 
deaf.  "All  right!"  Elly  cried.  "I'll  get  married  then!  Will  you 
be  satisfied  then?" 

That  afternoon  she  met  Paul  downtown.  "Was  everything 
all  right  last  night?"  he  said.  "Why,  what  is  it?  Did  they — " 

"No.  Paul,  marry  me."  They  were  in  the  rear  of  the 
drugstore,  partially  concealed  by  the  prescription  counter, 
though  anyone  might  appear  behind  it  at  any  moment.  She 
leaned  against  him,  her  face  wan,  tense,  her  painted  mouth 
like  a  savage  scar  upon  it.  "Marry  me.  Or  it  will  be  too  late, 
Paul." 

"I  don't  marry  them,"  Paul  said.  "Here.  Pull  yourself 
together." 

She  leaned  against  him,  rife  with  promise.  Her  voice  was 
wan  and  urgent.  "We  almost  did  last  night.  If  you'll  marry 
me,  I  will" 

"You  will,  eh?  Before  or  after?" 

"Yes.  Now.  Any  time." 


Elly  2 1 3 

"I'm  sorry,"  he  said. 

"Not  even  if  I  will  now?" 

"Come  on,  now.  Pull  yourself  together." 

"Oh,  I  can  hear  you.  But  I  don't  believe  you.  And  I  am 
afraid  to  try  and  find  out."  She  began  to  cry.  He  spoke  in 
thin  and  mounting  annoyance: 

"Stop  it,  I  tell  you!" 

"Yes.  All  right.  I've  stopped.  You  won't,  then?  I  tell  you, 
it  will  be  too  late." 

"Hell,  no.  I  don't  marry  them,  I  tell  you." 

"All  right.  Then  it's  good-bye.  Forever." 

"That's  O.K.  by  me,  too.  If  that's  how  you  feel.  If  I  ever 
see  you  again,  you  know  what  it  will  mean.  But  no  marry- 
ing. And  I'll  see  next  time  that  we  don't  have  any  audience," 

"There  won't  be  any  next  time,"  Elly  said. 

The  next  day  he  was  gone.  A  week  later,  her  engagement 
was  in  the  Memphis  papers.  It  was  to  a  young  man  whom 
she  had  known  from  childhood.  He  was  assistant  cashier  in 
the  bank,  who  they  said  would  be  president  of  it  some  day. 
He  was  a  grave,  sober  young  man  of  impeccable  character 
and  habits,  who  had  been  calling  on  her  for  about  a  year 
with  a  kind  of  placid  formality.  He  took  supper  with  the 
family  each  Sunday  night,  and  when  infrequent  road  shows 
came  to  town  he  always  bought  tickets  for  himself  and  Elly 
and  her  mother.  When  he  called  on  her,  even  after  the 
engagement  was  announced,  they  did  not  sit  in  the  dark 
swing.  Perhaps  he  did  not  know  that  anyone  had  ever  sat 
in  it  in  the  darkness.  No  one  sat  in  it  at  all  now,  and  Elly 
passed  the  monotonous  round  of  her  days  in  a  kind  of  dull 
peace.  Sometimes  at  night  she  cried  a  little,  though  not  often; 
now  and  then  she  examined  her  mouth  in  the  glass  and  cried 
quietly,  with  quiet  despair  and  resignation.  'Anyway  I  can 
live  quietly  now,'  she  thought.  'At  least  I  can  live  out  the 
rest  of  my  dead  life  as  quietly  as  if  I  were  already  dead.' 

Then  one  dav.  without  warning,  as  though  she,  too,  had 


214  The  Village 

accepted  the  armistice  and  the  capitulation,  the  grandmother 
departed  to  visit  her  son  in  Mills  City.  Her  going  seemed  to 
leave  the  house  bigger  and  emptier  than  it  had  ever  been, 
as  if  the  grandmother  had  been  the  only  other  actually  living 
person  in  it.  There  were  sewing  women  in  the  house  daily 
now,  making  the  trousseau,  yet  Elly  seemed  to  herself  to 
move  quietly  and  aimlessly,  in  a  hiatus  without  thought  or 
sense,  from  empty  room  to  empty  room  giving  upon  an 
identical  prospect  too  familiar  and  too  peaceful  to  be  even 
saddening  any  longer.  For  long  hours  now  she  would  stand 
at  her  mother's  bedroom  window,  watching  the  slow  and 
infinitesimal  clematis  tendrils  as  they  crept  and  overflowed 
up  the  screen  and  onto  the  veranda  roof  with  the  augment- 
ing summer.  Two  months  passed  so;  she  would  be  married 
in  three  weeks.  Then  one  day  her  mother  said,  "Your  grand- 
mother wants  to  come  home  Sunday.  Why  don't  you  and 
Philip  drive  down  to  Mills  City  and  spend  Saturday  night 
with  your  uncle,  and  bring  her  back  Sunday?"  Five  minutes 
later,  at  the  mirror,  Elly  looked  at  her  reflection  as  you  look 
at  someone  who  has  just  escaped  a  fearful  danger.  'God,' 
she  thought,  'what  was  I  about  to  do?  What  'was  I  about 
to  do? 

Within  the  hour  she  had  got  Paul  on  the  telephone,  leav- 
ing home  to  do  it,  taking  what  precautions  for  secrecy  her 
haste  would  afford  her. 

"Saturday  morning?"  he  said. 

"Yes.  I'll  tell  mother  Phi  ...  he  wants  to  leave  early,  at 
daylight.  They  won't  recognize  you  or  the  car.  I'll  be  ready 
and  we  can  get  away  quick." 

"Yes."  She  could  hear  the  wire,  distance;  she  had  a  feeling 
of  exultation,  escape.  "But  you  know  what  it  means.  If  I 
come  back.  What  I  told  you." 

"I'm  not  afraid.  I  still  don't  believe  you,  but  I  am  not 
afraid  to  try  it  now." 


Elly  215 

Again  she  could  hear  the  wire.  "I'm  not  going  to  marry 
you,  Elly." 

"All  right,  darling.  I  tell  you  I'm  not  afraid  to  try  it  any 
more.  Exactly  at  daylight.  I'll  be  waiting." 

She  went  to  the  bank.  After  a  time  Philip  was  free  and 
came  to  her  where  she  waited,  her  face  tense  and  wan 
beneath  the  paint,  her  eyes  bright  and  hard.  "There  is  some- 
thing you  must  do  for  me.  It's  hard  to  ask,  and  I  guess  it  will 
be  hard  to  do." 

"Of  course  I'll  do  it.  What  is  it?" 

"Grandmother  is  coming  home  Sunday.  Mother  wants 
you  and  me  to  drive  down  Saturday  and  bring  her  back." 

"All  right.  I  can  get  away  Saturday." 

"Yes.  You  see,  I  told  you  it  would  be  hard.  I  don't  want 
you  to  go." 

"Don't  want  me  to  .  .  ."  He  looked  at  her  bright,  almost 
haggard  face.  "You  want  to  go  alone?"  She  didn't  answer, 
watching  him.  Suddenly  she  came  and  leaned  against  him 
with  a  movement  practiced,  automatic.  She  took  one  of  his 
arms  and  drew  it  around  her.  "Oh,"  he  said.  "I  see.  You 
want  to  go  with  someone  else." 

"Yes.  I  can't  explain  now.  But  I  will  later.  But  mother  will 
never  understand.  She  won't  let  me  go  unless  she  thinks  it 
is  you." 

"I  see."  His  arm  was  without  life;  she  held  it  about  her. 
"It's  another  man  you  want  to  go  with." 

She  laughed,  not  loud,  not  long.  "Don't  be  foolish.  Yes. 
There's  another  man  in  the  party.  People  you  don't  know 
and  that  I  don't  expect  to  see  again  before  I  am  married. 
But  mother  won't  understand.  That's  why  I  must  ask  you. 
Will  you  do  it?" 

"Yes.  It's  all  right.  If  we  can't  trust  one  another,  we 
haven't  got  any  business  marrying." 

"Yes.  We  must  trust  one  another."  She  released  his  arm. 


216  The  Village 

She  looked  at  him  intently,  speculatively,  with  a  cold  and 
curious  contempt.  "And  you'll  let  mother  believe  .  .  ." 

"You  can  trust  me.  You  know  that." 

"Yes.  I'm  sure  I  can."  Suddenly  she  held  out  her  hand. 
"Good-bye." 

"Good-bye?" 

She  leaned  against  him  again.  She  kissed  him.  "Careful," 
he  said.  "Somebody  might .  .  ." 

"Yes.  Until  later,  then.  Until  I  explain."  She  moved  back, 
looked  at  him  absently,  speculatively.  "This  is  the  last 
trouble  I'll  ever  give  you,  I  expect.  Maybe  this  will  be 
worth  that  to  you.  Good-bye." 

That  was  Thursday  afternoon.  On  Saturday  morning,  at 
dawn,  when  Paul  stopped  his  car  before  the  dark  house,  she 
seemed  to  materialize  at  once,  already  running  across  the 
lawn.  She  sprang  into  the  car  before  he  could  descend  and 
open  the  door,  swirling  down  into  the  seat,  leaning  forward 
and  taut  with  urgency  and  flight  like  an  animal.  "Hurry!" 
she  said.  "Hurry!  Hurry!  Hurry!" 

But  he  held  the  car  a  moment  longer.  "Remember.  I  told 
you  what  it  meant  if  I  came  back.  O.K.?" 

"I  heard  you.  I  tell  you  I'm  not  afraid  to  risk  it  now. 
Hurry!  Hurry!" 

And  then,  ten  hours  later,  with  the  Mills  City  signs  in- 
creasing with  irrevocable  diminishment,  she  said,  "So  you 
won't  marry  me?  You  won't?" 

"I  told  you  that  all  the  time." 

"Yes.  But  I  didn't  believe  you.  I  didn't  believe  you.  I 
thought  that  when  I — after —  And  now  there  is  nothing  else 
I  can  do,  is  there?" 

"No,"  he  said. 

"No,"  she  repeated.  Then  she  began  to  laugh,  her  voice 
beginning  to  rise. 

"Elly!"  he  said.  "Stop  it,  now!" 


Elly  2 1 7 

"All  right,"  she  said.  "I  just  happened  to  think  about  my 
grandmother.  I  had  forgotten  her." 

Pausing  at  the  turn  of  the  stair,  Elly  could  hear  Paul  and 
her  uncle  and  aunt  talking  in  the  living-room  below.  She 
stood  quite  still,  in  an  attitude  almost  pensive,  nun-like, 
virginal,  as  though  posing,  as  though  she  had  escaped  for  the 
moment  into  a  place  where  she  had  forgotten  where  she  came 
from  and  where  she  intended  to  go.  Then  a  clock  in  the  hall 
struck  eleven,  and  she  moved.  She  went  on  up  the  stairs 
quietly  and  went  to  the  door  of  her  cousin's  room,  which 
she  was  to  occupy  for  the  night,  and  entered.  The  grand- 
mother sat  in  a  low  chair  beside  the  dressing  table  littered 
with  the  frivolous  impedimenta  of  a  young  girl  .  .  .  bottles, 
powder  puffs,  photographs,  a  row  of  dance  programs  stuck 
into  the  mirror  frame.  Elly  paused.  They  looked  at  one 
another  for  a  full  moment  before  the  old  woman  spoke: 
"Not  contented  with  deceiving  your  parents  and  your 
friends,  you  must  bring  a  Negro  into  my  son's  house  as  a 
guest." 

"Grandmother!"  Elly  said. 

"Having  me  sit  down  to  table  with  a  negro  man." 

"Grandmother!"  Elly  cried  in  that  thin  whisper,  her  face 
haggard  and  grimaced.  She  listened.  Feet,  voices  were  com- 
ing up  the  stairs,  her  aunt's  voice  and  Paul's.  "Hush!"  Elly 
cried.  "Hush!" 

"What?  What  did  you  say?" 

Elly  ran  to  the  chair  and  stooped  and  laid  her  fingers  on 
the  old  woman's  thin  and  bloodless  lips  and,  one  furiously 
importunate  and  the  other  furiously  implacable,  they  glared 
eye  to  eye  across  the  hand  while  the  feet  and  the  voices 
passed  the  door  and  ceased.  Elly  removed  her  hand.  From 
the  row  of  them  in  the  mirror  frame  she  jerked  one  of  the 
cards  with  its  silken  cord  and  tiny  futile  pencil.  She  wrote 


218  The  Village 

on  the  back  of  the  card.  He  is  not  a  negro  he  'went  to  Va. 
and  Harvard  and  everywhere. 

The  grandmother  read  the  card.  She  looked  up.  "I  can 
understand  Harvard,  but  not  Virginia.  Look  at  his  hair,  his 
fingernails,  if  you  need  proof.  I  don't.  I  know  the  name 
which  his  people  have  borne  for  four  generations."  She  re- 
turned the  card.  "That  man  must  not  sleep  under  this  roof." 

Elly  took  another  card  and  scrawled  swiftly.  He  shall.  He 
is  my  guest.  I  asked  him  here.  You  are  my  grandmother  you 
'would  not  have  me  treat  any  guest  that  way  not  even  a  dog. 

The  grandmother  read  it.  She  sat  with  the  card  in  her 
hand.  "He  shall  not  drive  me  to  Jefferson.  I  will  not  put  a  foot 
in  that  car,  and  you  shall  not.  We  will  go  home  on  the  train. 
No  blood  of  mine  shall  ride  with  him  again." 

Elly  snatched  another  card,  scrawled  furiously.  I  will. 
You  cannot  stop  me.  Try  and  stop  me. 

The  grandmother  read  it.  She  looked  at  Elly.  They  glared 
at  one  another.  "Then  I  will  have  to  tell  your  father." 

Already  Elly  was  writing  again.  She  thrust  the  card  at  her 
grandmother  almost  before  the  pencil  had  ceased;  then  in  the 
same  motion  she  tried  to  snatch  it  back.  But  the  grandmother 
had  already  grasped  the  corner  of  it  and  now  they  glared 
at  one  another,  the  card  joining  them  like  a  queer  umbilical 
cord.  "Let  go!"  Elly  cried.  "Let  it  go!" 

"Turn  loose,"  the  grandmother  said. 

"Wait,"  Elly  cried  thinly,  whispering,  tugging  at  the  card, 
twisting  it.  "I  made  a  mistake.  I — "  With  an  astonishing 
movement,  the  grandmother  bent  the  card  up  as  Elly  tried  to 
snatch  it  free. 

"Ah,"  she  said,  then  she  read  aloud:  Tell  him.  What  do 
you  know.  "So.  You  didn't  finish  it,  I  see.  What  do  I  know?" 

"Yes,"  Elly  said.  Then  she  began  to  speak  in  a  fierce  whis- 
per: "Tell  him!  Tell  him  we  went  into  a  clump  of  trees 
this  morning  and  stayed  there  two  hours.  Tell  him!"  The 


Elly  219 

grandmother  folded  the  card  carefully  and  quietly.  She  rose. 
"Grandmother!"  Elly  cried. 

"My  stick,"  the  grandmother  said.  "There;  against  the 
wall." 

When  she  was  gone  Elly  went  to  the  door  and  turned  the 
latch  and  recrossed  the  room.  She  moved  quietly,  getting  a 
robe  of  her  cousin's  from  the  closet,  and  undressed,  slowly, 
pausing  to  yawn  terrifically.  "God,  Pm  tired,"  she  said  aloud, 
yawning.  She  sat  down  at  the  dressing  table  and  began  to 
manicure  her  nails  with  the  cousin's  equipment.  There  was 
a  small  ivory  clock  on  the  dressing  table.  She  glanced  at  it 
now  and  then. 

Then  the  clock  below  stairs  struck  midnight.  She  sat  for 
a  moment  longer  with  her  head  above  her  glittering  nails, 
listening  to  the  final  stroke.  Then  she  looked  at  the  ivory 
one  beside  her.  I'd  hate  to  catch  a  train  by  you,'  she  thought. 
As  she  looked  at  it  her  face  began  again  to  fill  with  the  weary 
despair  of  the  afternoon.  She  went  to  the  door  and  passed 
into  the  dark  hall.  She  stood  in  the  darkness,  on  her  naked 
feet,  her  head  bent,  whimpering  quietly  to  herself  with 
bemused  and  childish  self-pity.  'Everything's  against  me,' 
she  thought.  'Everything.'  When  she  moved,  her  feet  made 
no  sound.  She  walked  with  her  arms  extended  into  the  dark- 
ness. She  seemed  to  feel  her  eyeballs  turning  completely  and 
blankly  back  into  her  skull  with  the  effort  to  see.  She  entered 
the  bathroom  and  locked  the  door.  Then  haste  and  urgency 
took  her  again.  She  ran  to  the  angle  of  the  wall  beyond 
which  the  guest  room  was  and  stooped,  cupping  her  voice 
into  the  angle  with  her  hands.  "Paul!"  she  whispered,  "Paul!" 
holding  her  breath  while  the  dying  and  urgent  whisper 
failed  against  the  cold  plaster.  She  stooped,  awkward  in  the 
borrowed  robe,  her  blind  eyes  unceasing  in  the  darkness  with 
darting  despair.  She  ran  to  the  lavatory ,  found  the  tap  in  the 
darkness  and  tempered  the  drip  of  water  to  a  minor  but 


220  The  Village 

penetrating  monotony.  Then  she  opened  the  door  and  stood 
just  within  it.  She  heard  the  clock  below  stairs  strike  the 
half  hour.  She  had  not  stirred,  shaking  slowly  as  with  cold, 
when  it  struck  one. 

She  heard  Paul  as  soon  as  he  left  the  guest  room.  She  heard 
him  come  down  the  hall;  she  heard  his  hand  seek  the  switch. 
When  it  clicked  on,  she  found  that  her  eyes  were  closed. 

"What's  this?"  Paul  said.  He  wore  a  suit  of  her  uncle's 
pajamas.  "What  the  devil — " 

"Lock  the  door,"  she  whispered. 

"Like  hell.  You  fool.  You  damned  fool." 

"Paul!"  She  held  him  as  though  she  expected  him  to  flee. 
She  shut  the  door  behind  him  and  fumbled  for  the  latch 
when  he  caught  her  wrist. 

"Let  me  out  of  here!"  he  whispered. 

She  leaned  against  him,  shaking  slowly,  holding  him.  Her 
eyes  showed  no  iris  at  all.  "She's  going  to  tell  daddy.  She's 
going  to  tell  daddy  to-morrow,  Paul!"  Between  the  whispers 
the  water  dripped  its  unhurried  minor  note. 

"Tell  what?  What  does  she  know?" 

"Put  your  arms  around  me,  Paul." 

"Hell,  no.  Let  go.  Let's  get  out  of  here." 

"Yes.  You  can  help  it.  You  can  keep  her  from  telling 
daddy." 

"How  help  it?  Damn  it,  let  me  go!" 

"She  will  tell,  but  it  won't  matter  then.  Promise.  Paul. 
Say  you  will." 

"Marry  you?  Is  that  what  you  are  talking  about?  I  told 
you  yesterday  I  wouldn't.  Let  me  go,  I  tell  you." 

"All  right.  All  right."  She  spoke  in  an  eager  whisper.  "I 
believe  you  now.  I  didn't  at  first,  but  I  do  now.  You  needn't 
marry  me,  then.  You  can  help  it  without  marrying  me."  She 
clung  to  him,  her  hair,  her  body,  rich  with  voluptuous  and 
fainting  promise.  "You  won't  have  to  marry  me.  Will  you 
do  it?" 


Elly  221 

"Do  what?" 

"Listen.  You  remember  that  curve  with  the  little  white 
fence,  where  it  is  so  far  down  to  the  bottom?  Where  if  a  car 
went  through  that  little  fence.  .  .  ." 

"Yes.  What  about  it?" 

"Listen.  You  and  she  will  be  in  the  car.  She  won't  know, 
won't  have  time  to  suspect.  And  that  little  old  fence  wouldn't 
stop  anything  and  they  will  all  say  it  was  an  accident.  She 
is  old;  it  wouldn't  take  much;  maybe  even  the  shock  and 
you  are  young  and  maybe  it  won't  even  .  .  .  Paul!  Paul!" 
With  each  word  her  voice  seemed  to  faint  and  die,  speaking 
with  a  dying  cadence  out  of  urgency  and  despair  while  he 
looked  down  at  her  blanched  face,  at  her  eyes  filled  with 
desperate  and  voluptuous  promise.  "Paul!" 

"And  where  will  you  be  all  this  time?"  She  didn't  stir, 
her  face  like  a  sleepwalker's.  "Oh.  I  see.  You'll  go  home  on 
the  train.  Is  that  it?" 

"Paul!"  she  said  in  that  prolonged  and  dying  whisper. 
"Paul!" 

In  the  instant  of  striking  her  his  hand,  as  though  refusing 
of  its  own  volition  the  office,  opened  and  touched  her  face 
in  a  long,  shuddering  motion  almost  a  caress.  Again,  gripping 
her  by  the  back  of  the  neck,  he  assayed  to  strike  her;  again 
his  hand,  something,  refused.  When  he  flung  her  away  she 
stumbled  backward  into  the  wall.  Then  his  feet  ceased  and 
then  the  water  began  to  fill  the  silence  with  its  steady  and 
unhurried  sound.  After  a  while  the  clock  below  struck  two, 
and  she  moved  wearily  and  heavily  and  closed  the  tap. 

But  that  did  not  seem  to  stop  the  sound  of  the  water.  It 
seemed  to  drip  on  into  the  silence  where  she  lay  rigid  on 
her  back  in  bed,  not  sleeping,  not  even  thinking.  It  dripped 
on  while  behind  the  frozen  grimace  of  her  aching  face  she 
got  through  the  ritual  of  breakfast  and  of  departure,  the 
grandmother  between  Paul  and  herself  in  the  single  seat.  Even 
the  sound  of  the  car  could  not  drown  it  out,  until  suddenly 


222  The  Village 

she  realized  what  it  was.  'It's  the  signboards/  she  thought, 
watching  them  as  they  diminished  in  retrograde.  *I  even 
remember  that  one;  now  it's  only  about  two  miles.  I'll  wait 
until  the  next  one;  then  I  will  .  .  .  now.  Now.'  "Paul,"  she 
said.  He  didn't  look  at  her.  "Will  you  marry  me?" 

"No."  Neither  was  she  looking  at  his  face.  She  was  watch- 
ing his  hands  as  they  jockeyed  the  wheel  slightly  and  con- 
stantly. Between  them  the  grandmother  sat,  erect,  rigid 
beneath  the  archaic  black  bonnet,  staring  straight  ahead  like 
a  profile  cut  from  parchment. 

"I'm  going  to  ask  you  just  once  more.  Then  it  will  be  too 
late.  I  tell  you  it  will  be  too  late  then,  Paul  .  .  .  Paul?" 

"No,  I  tell  you.  You  don't  love  me.  I  don't  love  you. 
We've  never  said  we  did." 

"All  right.  Not  love,  then.  Will  you  marry  me  without  it? 
Remember,  it  \vill  be  too  late." 

"No.  I  will  not." 

"But  why?  Why,  Paul?"  He  didn't  answer.  The  car  fled 
on.  Now  it  was  the  first  sign  which  she  had  noticed;  she 
thought  quietly,  'We  must  be  almost  there  now.  It  is  the 
next  curve.'  She  said  aloud,  speaking  across  the  deafness  of 
the  old  woman  between  them:  "Why  not,  Paul?  If  it's  that 
story  about  nigger  blood,  I  don't  believe  it.  I  don't  care." 
Tes,'  she  thought,  'this  is  the  curve.'  The  road  entered  the 
curve,  descending.  She  sat  back,  and  then  she  found  her 
grandmother  looking  full  at  her.  But  she  did  not  try  now 
to  veil  her  face,  her  eyes,  any  more  than  she  would  have  tried 
to  conceal  her  voice:  "Suppose  I  have  a  child?" 

"Suppose  you  do?  I  can't  help  it  now.  You  should  have 
thought  of  that.  Remember,  you  sent  for  me;  I  didn't  ask 
to  come  back." 

"No.  You  didn't  ask.  I  sent  for  you.  I  made  you.  And  this 
is  the  last  time.  Will  you?  Quick!" 

"No." 


Elly  223 

"All  right,"  she  said.  She  sat  back;  at  that  instant  the  road 
seemed  to  poise  and  pause  before  plunging  steeply  down- 
ward beside  the  precipice;  the  white  fence  began  to  flicker 
past.  As  Elly  flung  the  robe  aside  she  saw  her  grandmother 
still  watching  her;  as  she  lunged  forward  across  the  old 
woman's  knees  they  glared  eye  to  eye — the  haggard  and 
desperate  girl  and  the  old  woman  whose  hearing  had  long 
since  escaped  everything  and  whose  sight  nothing  escaped 
— for  a  profound  instant  of  despairing  ultimatum  and  im- 
placable refusal.  "Then  die!"  she  cried  into  the  old  woman's 
face;  "die!"  grasping  at  the  wheel  as  Paul  tried  to  fling  her 
back.  But  she  managed  to  get  her  elbow  into  the  wheel 
spokes  with  all  her  weight  on  it,  sprawling  across  her  grand- 
mother's body,  holding  the  wheel  hard  over  as  Paul  struck 
her  on  the  mouth  with  his  fist.  "Oh,"  she  screamed,  "you  hit 
me.  You  hit  me!"  When  the  car  struck  the  railing  it  flung 
her  free,  so  that  for  an  instant  she  lay  lightly  as  an  alighting 
bird  upon  Paul's  chest,  her  mouth  open,  her  eyes  round  with 
shocked  surprise.  "You  hit  me!"  she  wailed.  Then  she  was 
falling  free,  alone  in  a  complete  and  peaceful  silence  like  a 
vacuum.  Paul's  face,  her  grandmother,  the  car,  had  disap- 
peared, vanished  as  though  by  magic;  parallel  with  her  eyes 
the  shattered  ends  of  white  railing,  the  crumbling  edge  of  the 
precipice  where  dust  whispered  and  a  faint  gout  of  it  hung 
like  a  toy  balloon,  rushed  mutely  skyward. 

Overhead  somewhere  a  sound  passed,  dying  away — the 
snore  of  an  engine,  the  long  hissing  of  tires  in  gravel,  then 
the  wind  sighed  in  the  trees  again,  shivering  the  crests  against 
the  sky.  Against  the  bole  of  one  of  them  the  car  lay  in  an 
inextricable  and  indistinguishable  mass,  and  Elly  sat  in  a 
litter  of  broken  glass,  staring  dully  at  it.  "Something  hap- 
pened," she  whimpered.  "He  hit  me.  And  now  they  are 
dead;  it's  me  that's  hurt,  and  nobody  will  come."  She  moaned 
a  little,  whimpering.  Then  with  an  air  of  dazed  astonish- 


224  The  Village 

ment  she  raised  her  hand.  The  palm  was  red  and  wet.  She 
sat  whimpering  quietly,  digging  stupidly  at  her  palm. 
"There's  glass  all  in  it  and  I  can't  even  see  it,"  she  said,  whim- 
pered, gazing  at  her  palm  while  the  warm  blood  stained 
slowly  down  upon  her  skirt.  Again  the  sound  rushed  steadily 
past  high  overhead,  and  died  away.  She  looked  up,  following 
it.  "There  goes  another  one,"  she  whimpered.  "They  won't 
even  stop  to  see  if  I  am  hurt." 


Uncle  Willy 


I  KNOW  what  they  said.  They  said  I  didn't  run  away  from 
home  but  that  I  was  tolled  away  by  a  crazy  man  who,  if  I 
hadn't  killed  him  first,  would  have  killed  me  inside  another 
week.  But  if  they  had  said  that  the  women,  the  good  women 
in  Jefferson  had  driven  Uncle  Willy  out  of  town  and  I  fol- 
lowed him  and  did  what  I  did  because  I  knew  that  Uncle 
Willy  was  on  his  last  go-round  and  this  time  when  they  got 
him  again  it  would  be  for  good  and  forever,  they  would  have 
been  right.  Because  I  wasn't  tolled  away  and  Uncle  Willy 
wasn't  crazy,  not  even  after  all  they  had  done  to  him.  I 
didn't  have  to  go;  I  didn't  have  to  go  any  more  than  Uncle 
Willy  had  to  invite  me  instead  of  just  taking  it  for  granted 
that  I  wanted  to  come.  I  went  because  Uncle  Willy  was  the 
finest  man  I  ever  knew,  because  even  women  couldn't  beat 
him,  because  in  spite  of  them  he  wound  up  his  life  getting 
fun  out  of  being  alive  and  he  died  doing  the  thing  that  was 
the  most  fun  of  all  because  I  was  there  to  help  him.  And 
that's  something  that  most  men  and  even  most  women  too 
don't  get  to  do,  not  even  the  women  that  call  meddling  with 
other  folks'  lives  fun. 

He  wasn't  anybody's  uncle,  but  all  of  us,  and  grown  people 
too,  called  him  (or  thought  of  him)  as  Uncle  Willy.  He 
didn't  have  any  kin  at  all  except  a  sister  in  Texas  married 
to  an  oil  millionaire.  He  lived  by  himself  in  a  little  old  neat 

"5 


226  *  The  Village 

white  house  where  he  had  been  born  on  the  edge  of  town, 
he  and  an  old  nigger  named  Job  Wylie  that  was  older  than 
he  was  even,  that  cooked  and  kept  the  house  and  was  the 
porter  at  the  drugstore  which  Uncle  Willy's  father  had 
established  and  which  Uncle  Willy  ran  without  any  other 
help  than  old  Job;  and  during  the  twelve  or  fourteen  years 
(the  life  of  us  as  children  and  then  boys),  while  he  just  used 
dope,  we  saw  a  lot  of  him.  We  liked  to  go  to  his  store  because 
it  was  always  cool  and  dim  and  quiet  inside  because  he  never 
washed  the  windows;  he  said  the  reason  was  that  he  never 
had  to  bother  to  dress  them  because  nobody  could  see  in 
anyway,  and  so  the  heat  couldn't  get  in  either.  And  he  never 
had  any  customers  except  country  people  buying  patent 
medicines  that  were  already  in  bottles,  and  niggers  buying 
cards  and  dice,  because  nobody  had  let  him  fill  a  prescription 
in  forty  years  I  reckon,  and  he  never  had  any  soda  fountain 
trade  because  it  was  old  Job  who  washed  the  glasses  and 
mixed  the  syrups  and  made  the  ice  cream  ever  since  Uncle 
Willy's  father  started  the  business  in  eighteen-fifty-some- 
thing  and  so  old  Job  couldn't  see  very  well  now,  though 
papa  said  he  didn't  think  that  old  Job  took  dope  too,  it  was 
from  breathing  day  and  night  the  air  which  Uncle  Willy 
had  just  exhaled. 

But  the  ice  cream  tasted  all  right  to  us,  especially  when  we 
came  in  hot  from  the  ball  games.  We  had  a  league  of  three 
teams  in  town  and  Uncle  Willy  would  give  the  prize,  a  ball 
or  a  bat  or  a  mask,  for  each  game  though  he  would  never 
come  to  see  us  play,  so  after  the  game  both  teams  and  maybe 
all  three  would  go  to  the  store  to  watch  the  winner  get  the 
prize.  And  we  would  eat  the  ice  cream  and  then  we  would 
all  go  behind  the  prescription  case  and  watch  Uncle  Willy 
light  the  little  alcohol  stove  and  fill  the  needle  and  roll  his 
sleeve  up  over  the  little  blue  myriad  punctures  starting  at 
his  elbow  and  going  right  on  up  into  his  shirt.  And  the  next 


Uncle  Willy  227 

day  would  be  Sunday  and  we  would  wait  in  our  yards  and 
fall  in  with  him  as  he  passed  from  house  to  house  and  go  on 
to  Sunday  school,  Uncle  Willy  with  us,  in  the  same  class 
with  us,  sitting  there  while  we  recited.  Mr.  Barbour  from  the 
Sunday  school  never  called  on  him.  Then  we  would  finish 
the  lesson  and  we  would  talk  about  baseball  until  the  bell 
rang  and  Uncle  Willy  still  not  saying  anything,  just  sitting 
there  all  neat  and  clean,  with  his  clean  collar  and  no  tie  and 
weighing  about  a  hundred  and  ten  pounds  and  his  eyes 
behind  his  glasses  kind  of  all  run  together  like  broken  eggs. 
Then  we  would  all  go  to  the  store  and  eat  the  ice  cream 
that  was  left  over  from  Saturday  and  then  go  behind  the 
prescription  case  and  watch  him  again:  the  little  stove  and 
his  Sunday  shirt  rolled  up  and  the  needle  going  slow  into 
his  blue  arm  and  somebody  would  say,  "Don't  it  hurt?"  and 
he  would  say,  "No.  I  like  it." 

II 

THEN  THEY  made  him  quit  dope.  He  had  been  using  it  for 
forty  years,  he  told  us  once,  and  now  he  was  sixty  and  he 
had  about  ten  years  more  at  the  outside,  only  he  didn't  tell 
us  that  because  he  didn't  need  to  tell  even  fourteen-year-old 
boys  that.  But  they  made  him  quit.  It  didn't  take  them  long. 
It  began  one  Sunday  morning  and  it  was  finished  by  the 
next  Friday;  we  had  just  sat  down  in  our  class  and  Mr.  Bar- 
bour had  just  begun,  when  all  of  a  sudden  Reverend  Schultz, 
the  minister,  was  there,  leaning  over  Uncle  Willy  and  already 
hauling  him  out  of  his  seat  when  we  looked  around,  hauling 
him  up  and  saying  in  that  tone  in  which  preachers  speak  to 
fourteen-year-old  boys  that  I  don't  believe  even  pansy  boys 
like:  "Now,  Brother  Christian,  I  know  you  will  hate  to 
leave  Brother  Barbour's  class,  but  let's  you  and  I  go  in  and 
join  Brother  Miller  and  the  men  and  hear  what  he  can  tell 


228  The  Village 

us  on  this  beautiful  and  heartwarming  text,"  and  Uncle 
Willy  still  trying  to  hold  back  and  looking  around  at  us 
with  his  run-together  eyes  blinking  and  saying  plainer  than 
if  he  had  spoke  it:  "What's  this?  What's  this,  fellows?  What 
are  they  fixing  to  do  to  me?" 

We  didn't  know  any  more  than  he  did.  We  just  finished 
the  lesson;  we  didn't  talk  any  baseball  that  day;  and  we 
passed  the  alcove  where  Mr.  Miller's  men's  Bible  class  met, 
with  Reverend  Schultz  sitting  in  the  middle  of  them  like  he 
did  every  Sunday,  like  he  was  just  a  plain  man  like  the  rest 
of  them  yet  kind  of  bulging  out  from  among  the  others  like 
he  didn't  have  to  move  or  speak  to  keep  them  reminded  that 
he  wasn't  a  plain  man;  and  I  would  always  think  about  April 
Fool's  one  year  when  Miss  Callaghan  called  the  roll  and  then 
stepped  down  from  her  desk  and  said,  "Now  I'm  going  to 
be  a  pupil  today,"  and  took  a  vacant  seat  and  called  out  a 
name  and  made  them  go  to  her  desk  and  hold  the  lesson  and 
it  would  have  been  fun  if  you  could  have  just  quit  remem- 
bering that  tomorrow  wouldn't  be  April  Fool's  and  the  day 
after  that  wouldn't  be  either.  And  Uncle  Willy  was  sitting 
by  Reverend  Schultz  looking  littler  than  ever,  and  I  thought 
about  one  day  last  summer  when  they  took  a  country  man 
named  Bundren  to  the  asylum  at  Jackson  but  he  wasn't  too 
crazy  not  to  know  where  he  was  going,  sitting  there  in  the 
coach  window  handcuffed  to  a  fat  deputy  sheriff  that  was 
smoking  a  cigar. 

Then  Sunday  school  was  over  and  we  went  out  to  wait 
for  him,  to  go  to  the  store  and  eat  the  ice  cream.  And  he 
didn't  come  out.  He  didn't  come  out  until  church  was  over 
too,  the  first  time  that  he  had  ever  stayed  for  church  that 
any  of  us  knew  of — that  anybody  knew  of,  papa  told  me 
later — coming  out  with  Mrs.  Merridew  on  one  side  of  him 
and  Reverend  Schultz  on  the  other  still  holding  him  by  the 
arm  and  he  looking  around  at  us  again  with  his  eyes  saying 


Uncle  Willy  229 

again  only  desperate  now:  "Fellows,  what's  this?  What's 
this,  fellows?"  and  Reverend  Schultz  shoving  him  into  Mrs. 
Merridew's  car  and  Airs.  Merridew  saying,  loud,  like  she  was 
in  the  pulpit:  "Now,  Mr.  Christian,  I'm  going  to  take  you 
right  out  to  my  house  and  I'm  going  to  fix  you  a  nice  glass 
of  cool  lemonade  and  then  we  will  have  a  nice  chicken  dinner 
and  then  you  are  going  to  take  a  nice  nap  in  my  hammock 
and  then  Brother  and  Sister  Schultz  are  coming  out  and  we 
will  have  some  nice  ice  cream,"  and  Uncle  Willy  saying, 
"No.  Wait,  ma'am,  wait!  Wait!  I  got  to  go  to  the  store  and 
fill  a  prescription  I  promised  this  morning — " 

So  they  shoved  him  into  the  car  and  him  looking  back  at 
us  where  we  stood  there;  he  went  out  of  sight  like  that, 
sitting  beside  Mrs.  Merridew  in  the  car  like  Darl  Bundren 
and  the  deputy  on  the  train,  and  I  reckon  she  was  holding 
his  wrist  and  I  reckon  she  never  needed  any  handcuffs  and 
Uncle  Willy  giving  us  that  single  look  of  amazed  and  des- 
perate despair. 

Because  now  he  was  already  an  hour  past  the  time  for  his 
needle  and  that  afternoon  when  he  finally  slipped  away  from 
Mrs.  Merridew  he  was  five  hours  past  it  and  so  he  couldn't 
even  get  the  key  into  the  lock,  and  so  Mrs.  Merridew  and 
Reverend  Schultz  caught  him  and  this  time  he  wasn't  talking 
or  looking  either:  he  was  trying  to  get  away  like  a  half-wild 
cat  tries  to  get  away.  They  took  him  to  his  home  and  Mrs. 
Merridew  telegraphed  his  sister  in  Texas  and  Uncle  Willy 
didn't  come  to  town  for  three  days  because  Mrs.  Merridew 
and  Mrs.  Hovis  took  turn  about  staying  in  the  house  with 
him  day  and  night  until  his  sister  could  get  there.  That  was 
vacation  then  and  we  played  the  game  on  Monday  and  that 
afternoon  the  store  was  still  locked  and  Tuesday  it  was  still 
locked,  and  so  it  was  not  until  Wednesday  afternoon  and 
Uncle  Willy  was  running  fast. 

He  didn't  have  any  shirt  on  and  he  hadn't  shaved  and  he 


230  The  Village 

could  not  get  the  key  into  the  lock  at  all,  panting  and  whim- 
pering and  saying,  "She  went  to  sleep  at  last;  she  went  to 
sleep  at  last,"  until  one  of  us  took  the  key  and  unlocked  the 
door.  We  had  to  light  the  little  stove  too  and  fill  the  needle 
and  this  time  it  didn't  go  into  his  arm  slow,  it  looked  like 
he  was  trying  to  jab  it  clean  through  the  bone.  He  didn't  go 
back  home.  He  said  he  wouldn't  need  anything  to  sleep  on 
and  he  gave  us  the  money  and  let  us  out  the  back  door  and 
we  bought  the  sandwiches  and  the  bottle  of  coffee  from  the 
cafe  and  we  left  him  there. 

Then  the  next  day,  it  was  Mrs.  Merridew  and  Reverend 
Schultz  and  three  more  ladies;  they  had  the  marshal  break  in 
the  door  and  Mrs.  Merridew  holding  Uncle  Willy  by  the 
back  of  the  neck  and  shaking  him  and  kind  of  whispering, 
"You  little  wretch!  You  little  wretch!  Slip  off  from  me,  will 
you?"  and  Reverend  Schultz  saying,  "Now,  Sister;  now, 
Sister;  control  yourself,"  and  the  other  ladies  hollering  Mr. 
Christian  and  Uncle  Willy  and  Willy,  according  to  how  old 
they  were  or  how  long  they  had  lived  in  Jefferson.  It  didn't 
take  them  long. 

The  sister  got  there  from  Texas  that  night  and  we  would 
walk  past  the  house  and  see  the  ladies  on  the  front  porch  or 
going  in  and  out,  and  now  and  then  Reverend  Schultz  kind 
of  bulging  out  from  among  them  like  he  would  out  of  Mr. 
Miller's  Bible  class,  and  we  could  crawl  up  behind  the  hedge 
and  hear  them  through  the  window,  hear  Uncle  Willy  cry- 
ing and  cussing  and  fighting  to  get  out  of  the  bed  and  the 
ladies  saying,  "Now,  Mr.  Christian;  now,  Uncle  Willy," 
and  "Now,  Bubber,"  too,  since  his  sister  was  there;  and 
Uncle  Willy  crying  and  praying  and  cussing.  And  then  it 
was  Friday,  and  he  gave  up.  We  could  hear  them  holding 
him  in  the  bed;  I  reckon  this  was  his  last  go-round,  because 
none  of  them  had  time  to  talk  now;  and  then  we  heard  him, 
his  voice  weak  but  clear  and  his  breath  going  in  and  out. 


Uncle  Willy  231 

"Wait,"  he  said.  "Wait!  I  will  ask  it  one  more  time.  Won't 
you  please  quit?  Won't  you  please  go  away?  Won't  you 
please  go  to  hell  and  just  let  me  come  on  at  my  own  gait?" 

"No,  Mr.  Christian,"  Mrs.  Merridew  said.  "We  are  doing 
this  to  save  you." 

For  a  minute  we  didn't  hear  anything.  Then  we  heard 
Uncle  Willy  lay  back  in  the  bed,  kind  of  flop  back. 

"All  right,"  he  said.  "All  right." 

It  was  like  one  of  those  sheep  they  would  sacrifice  back 
in  the  Bible.  It  was  like  it  had  climbed  up  onto  the  altar 
itself  and  flopped  onto  its  back  with  its  throat  held  up  and 
said:  "All  right.  Come  on  and  get  it  over  with.  Cut  my 
damn  throat  and  go  away  and  let  me  lay  quiet  in  the  fire." 

Ill 

HE  WAS  SICK  for  a  long  time.  They  took  him  to  Memphis 
and  they  said  that  he  was  going  to  die.  The  store  stayed 
locked  all  the  time  now,  and  after  a  few  weeks  we  didn't 
even  keep  up  the  league.  It  wasn't  just  the  balls  and  the  bats. 
It  wasn't  that.  We  would  pass  the  store  and  look  at  the  big 
old  lock  on  it  and  at  the  windows  you  couldn't  even  see 
through,  couldn't  even  see  inside  where  we  used  to  eat  the 
ice  cream  and  tell  him  who  beat  and  who  made  the  good 
plays  and  him  sitting  there  on  his  stool  with  the  little  stove 
burning  and  the  dope  boiling  and  bubbling  and  the  needle 
waiting  in  his  hand,  looking  at  us  with  his  eyes  blinking 
and  all  run  together  behind  his  glasses  so  you  couldn't  even 
tell  where  the  pupil  was  like  you  can  in  most  eyes.  And  the 
niggers  and  the  country  folks  that  used  to  trade  with  him 
coming  up  and  looking  at  the  lock  too,  and  asking  us  how 
he  was  and  when  he  would  come  home  and  open  up  again. 
Because  even  after  the  store  opened  again,  they  would  not 
trade  with  the  clerk  that  Mrs.  Merridew  and  Reverend 


232  The  Village 

Schultz  put  in  the  store.  Uncle  Willy's  sister  said  not  to 
bother  about  the  store,  to  let  it  stay  shut  because  she  would 
take  care  of  Uncle  Willy  if  he  got  well.  But  Mrs.  Merridew 
said  no,  she  not  only  aimed  to  cure  Uncle  Willy,  she  was 
going  to  give  him  a  complete  rebirth,  not  only  into  real 
Christianity  but  into  the  practical  world  too,  with  a  place 
in  it  waiting  for  him  so  he  could  hold  up  his  head  not  only 
with  honor  but  pride  too  among  his  fellow  men;  she  said 
that  at  first  her  only  hope  had  been  to  fix  it  so  he  would  not 
have  to  face  his  Maker  slave  body  and  soul  to  morphine, 
but  now  since  his  constitution  was  stronger  than  anybody 
could  have  believed,  she  was  going  to  see  that  he  assumed 
that  position  in  the  world  which  his  family's  name  entitled 
him  to  before  he  degraded  it. 

She  and  Reverend  Schultz  found  the  clerk.  He  had 
been  in  Jefferson  about  six  months.  He  had  letters 
to  the  church,  but  nobody  except  Reverend  Schultz  and 
Mrs.  Merridew  knew  anything  about  him.  That  is,  they 
made  him  the  clerk  in  Uncle  Willy's  store;  nobody  else 
knew  anything  about  him  at  all.  But  Uncle  Willy's  old 
customers  wouldn't  trade  with  him.  And  we  didn't  either. 
Not  that  we  had  much  trade  to  give  him  and  we  certainly 
didn't  expect  him  to  give  us  any  ice  cream  and  I  don't 
reckon  we  would  have  taken  it  if  he  had  offered  it  to  us. 
Because  it  was  not  Uncle  Willy,  and  pretty  soon  it  wasn't 
even  the  same  ice  cream  because  the  first  thing  the  clerk 
did  after  he  washed  the  windows  was  to  fire  old  Job,  only 
old  Job  refused  to  quit.  He  stayed  around  the  store  any- 
how, mumbling  to  himself  and  the  clerk  would  run  him 
out  the  front  door  and  old  Job  would  go  around  to  the 
back  and  come  in  and  the  clerk  would  find  him  again  and 
cuss  him,  whispering,  cussing  old  Job  good  even  if  he  did 
have  letters  to  the  church;  he  went  and  swore  out  a  war- 
rant and  the  marshal  told  old  Job  he  would  have  to  stay  out 


Uncle  Willy  233 

of  the  store.  Then  old  Job  moved  across  the  street.  He 
would  sit  on  the  curb  all  day  where  he  could  watch  the 
door  and  every  time  the  clerk  came  in  sight  old  Job  would 
holler,  "I  ghy  tell  um!  I  ghy  do  hit!"  So  we  even  quit  pass- 
ing the  store.  We  would  cut  across  the  corner  not  to  pass 
it,  with  the  windows  clean  now  and  the  new  town  trade  the 
clerk  had  built  up — he  had  a  lot  of  trade  now — going  in 
and  out,  just  stopping  long  enough  to  ask  old  Job  about 
Uncle  Willy,  even  though  we  had  already  got  what  news 
came  from  Memphis  about  him  every  day  and  we  knew 
that  old  Job  would  riot  know,  would  not  be  able  to  get  it 
straight  even  if  someone  told  him,  since  he  never  did  believe 
that  Uncle  Willy  was  sick,  he  just  believed  that  Mrs.  Merri- 
dew  had  taken  him  away  somewhere  by  main  force  and 
was  holding  him  in  another  bed  somewhere  so  he  couldn't 
get  up  and  come  back  home;  and  old  Job  sitting  on  the 
curb  and  blinking  up  at  us  with  his  little  watery  red  eyes 
like  Uncle  Willy  would  and  saying,  UI  ghy  tell  um!  Holting 
him  up  dar  whilst  whipper-snappin'  trash  makin'  free  wid 
Marse  Hoke  Christian's  sto.  I  ghy  tell  um!" 

IV 

UNCLE  WILLY  didn't  die.  One  day  he  came  home  with  his 
skin  the  color  of  tallow  and  weighing  about  ninety  pounds 
now  and  with  his  eyes  like  broken  eggs  still  but  dead  eggs, 
eggs  that  had  been  broken  so  long  now  that  they  didn't 
even  smell  dead  any  more — until  you  looked  at  them  and 
saw  that  they  were  anything  in  the  world  except  dead.  That 
was  after  he  got  to  know  us  again.  I  don't  mean  that  he  had 
forgotten  about  us  exactly.  It  was  like  he  still  liked  us  as 
boys,  only  he  had  never  seen  us  before  and  so  he  would  have 
to  learn  our  names  and  which  faces  the  names  belonged  to. 
His  sister  had  gone  back  to  Texas  now,  because  Mrs.  Merri- 


234  The  Village 

dew  was  going  to  look  after  him  until  he  was  completely 
recovered,  completely  cured.  Yes.  Cured. 

I  remember  that  first  afternoon  when  he  came  to  town 
and  we  walked  into  the  store  and  Uncle  Willy  looked  at  the 
clean  windows  that  you  could  see  through  now  and  at  the 
town  customers  that  never  had  traded  with  him,  and  at 
the  clerk  and  said,  "You're  my  clerk,  hey?"  and  the  clerk 
begun  to  talk  about  Mrs.  Merridew  and  Reverend  Schultz 
and  Uncle  Willy  said,  "All  right,  all  right,"  and  now  he  ate 
some  ice  cream  too,  standing  at  the  counter  with  us  like  he 
was  a  customer  too  and  still  looking  around  the  store  while 
he  ate  the  ice  cream,  with  those  eyes  that  were  not  dead  at 
all  and  he  said,  "Looks  like  you  been  getting  more  work  out 
of  my  damned  old  nigger  than  I  could/'  and  the  clerk  began 
to  say  something  else  about  Mrs.  Merridew  and  Uncle  Willy 
said,  "All  right,  all  right.  Just  get  a  holt  of  Job  right  away 
and  tell  him  I  am  going  to  expect  him  to  be  here  every  day 
and  that  I  want  him  to  keep  this  store  looking  like  this  from 
now  on."  Then  we  went  on  behind  the  prescription  case, 
with  Uncle  Willy  looking  around  here  too,  at  how  the  clerk 
had  it  neated  up,  with  a  big  new  lock  on  the  cabinet  where 
the  drugs  and  such  were  kept,  with  those  eyes  that  wouldn't 
anybody  call  dead,  I  don't  care  who  he  was,  and  said,  "Step 
up  there  and  tell  that  fellow  I  want  my  keys."  But  it  wasn't 
the  stove  and  the  needle.  Mrs.  Merridew  had  busted  both 
of  them  that  day.  But  it  wasn't  that  anyway,  because  the 
clerk  came  back  and  begun  to  talk  about  Mrs.  Merridew 
and  Reverend  Schultz,  and  Uncle  Willy  listening  and  say- 
ing, "All  right,  all  right,"  and  we  never  had  seen  him  laugh 
before  and  his  face  didn't  change  now  but  we  knew  that  he 
was  laughing  behind  it.  Then  we  went  out.  He  turned  sharp 
off  the  square,  down  Nigger  Row  to  Sonny  Barger's  store 
and  I  took  the  money  and  bought  the  Jamaica  ginger  from 
Sonny  and  caught  up  with  them  and  we  went  home  with 


Uncle  Willy  235 

Uncle  Willy  and  we  sat  in  the  pasture  while  he  drank  the 
Jamaica  ginger  and  practiced  our  names  some  more. 

And  that  night  we  met  him  where  he  said.  He  had  the 
wheelbarrow  and  the  crowbar  and  we  broke  open  the  back 
door  and  then  the  cabinet  with  the  new  lock  on  it  and  got 
the  can  of  alcohol  and  carried  it  to  Uncle  Willy's  and  buried 
it  in  the  barn.  It  had  almost  three  gallons  in  it  and  he  didn't 
come  to  town  at  all  for  four  weeks  and  he  was  sick  again, 
and  Mrs.  Merridew  storming  into  the  house,  jerking  out 
drawers  and  flinging  things  out  of  closets  and  Uncle  Willy 
lying  in  the  bed  and  watching  her  with  those  eyes  that  were 
a  long  way  from  being  dead.  But  she  couldn't  find  anything 
because  it  was  all  gone  now,  and  besides  she  didn't  know 
what  it  was  she  was  looking  for  because  she  was  looking  for 
a  needle.  And  the  night  Uncle  Willy  was  up  again  we  took 
the  crowbar  and  went  back  to  the  store  and  when  we  went 
to  the  cabinet  we  found  that  it  was  already  open  and  Uncle 
Willy's  stool  sitting  in  the  door  and  a  quart  bottle  of  alcohol 
on  the  stool  in  plain  sight,  and  that  was  all.  And  then  I  knew 
that  the  clerk  knew  who  got  the  alcohol  before  but  I  didn't 
know  why  he  hadn't  told  Mrs.  Merridew  until  two  years 
later. 

I  didn't  know  that  for  two  years,  and  Uncle  Willy  a  year 
now  going  to  Memphis  every  Saturday  in  the  car  his  sister 
had  given  him.  I  wrote  the  letter  with  Uncle  Willy  looking 
over  my  shoulder  and  dictating,  about  how  his  health  was 
improving  but  not  as  fast  as  the  doctor  seemed  to  want  and 
that  the  doctor  said  he  ought  not  to  walk  back  and  forth  to 
the  store  and  so  a  car,  not  an  expensive  car,  just  a  small  car 
that  he  could  drive  himself  or  maybe  find  a  negro  boy  to 
drive  for  him  if  his  sister  thought  he  ought  not  to:  and  she 
sent  the  money  and  he  got  a  burr-headed  nigger  boy  about 
my  size  named  Secretary  to  drive  it  for  him.  That  is,  Secre- 
tary said  he  could  drive  a  car;  certainly  he  and  Uncle  Willy 


236  The  Village 

both  learned  on  the  night  trips  they  would  make  back  into 
the  hill  country  to  buy  corn  whisky  and  Secretary  learned  to 
drive  in  Memphis  pretty  quick,  too,  because  they  went  every 
Saturday,  returning  Monday  morning  with  Uncle  Willy 
insensible  on  the  back  seat,  with  his  clothes  smelling  of  that 
smell  whose  source  I  was  not  to  discover  at  first  hand  for 
some  years  yet,  and  two  or  three  half-empty  bottles  and  a 
little  notebook  full  of  telephone  numbers  and  names  like 
Lorine  and  Billie  and  Jack.  I  didn't  know  it  for  two  years, 
not  until  that  Monday  morning  when  the  sheriff  came  and 
padlocked  and  sealed  what  was  left  of  Uncle  Willy's  stock 
and  when  they  tried  to  find  the  clerk  they  couldn't  even 
find  out  what  train  he  had  left  town  on;  a  hot  morning  in 
July  and  Uncle  Willy  sprawled  out  on  the  back  seat,  and  on 
the  front  seat  with  Secretary  a  woman  twice  as  big  as  Uncle 
Willy,  in  a  red  hat  and  a  pink  dress  and  a  dirty  white  fur 
coat  over  the  back  of  the  seat  and  two  straw  suitcases  on  the 
fenders,  with  hair  the  color  of  a  brand  new  brass  hydrant 
bib  and  her  cheeks  streaked  with  mascara  and  caked  powder 
where  she  had  sweated. 

It  was  worse  than  if  he  had  started  dope  again.  You  would 
have  thought  he  had  brought  smallpox  to  town.  I  remember 
how  when  Mrs.  Merridew  telephoned  Mamma  that  after- 
noon you  could  hear  her  from  away  out  at  her  house,  over 
the  wire,  clean  out  to  the  back  door  and  the  kitchen:  "Mar- 
ried! Married!  Whore!  Whore!  Whore!"  like  the  clerk  used 
to  cuss  old  Job,  and  so  maybe  the  church  can  go  just  so 
far  and  maybe  the  folks  that  are  in  it  are  the  ones  that  know 
the  best  or  are  entitled  to  say  when  to  disconnect  religion 
for  a  minute  or  two.  And  Papa  was  cussing  too,  not  cussing 
anybody;  I  knew  he  was  not  cussing  Uncle  Willy  or  even 
Uncle  Willy's  new  wife,  just  like  I  knew  that  I  wished  Mrs. 
Merridew  could  have  been  there  to  hear  him.  Only  I  reckon 
if  she  had  been  there  she  couldn't  have  heard  anything  be- 


Uncle  Willy  237 

cause  they  said  she  still  had  on  a  house  dress  when  she  went 
and  snatched  Reverend  Schultz  into  her  car  and  went  out 
to  Uncle  Willy's,  where  he  was  still  in  bed  like  always  on 
Monday  and  Tuesday,  and  his  new  wife  run  Mrs.  Merridew 
and  Reverend  Schultz  out  of  the  house  with  the  wedding 
license  like  it  was  a  gun  or  a  knife.  And  I  remember  how  all 
that  afternoon — Uncle  Willy  lived  on  a  little  quiet  side 
street  where  the  other  houses  were  all  little  new  ones  that 
country  people  who  had  moved  to  town  within  the  last  fif- 
teen years,  like  mail  carriers  and  little  storekeepers,  lived — 
how  all  that  afternoon  mad-looking  ladies  with  sun-bonnets 
on  crooked  came  busting  out  of  that  little  quiet  street 
dragging  the  little  children  and  the  grown  girls  with  them, 
heading  for  the  mayor's  office  and  Reverend  Schultz's  house, 
and  how  the  young  men  and  the  boys  that  didn't  work  and 
some  of  the  men  that  did  would  drive  back  and  forth  past 
Uncle  Willy's  house  to  look  at  her  sitting  on  the  porch  smok- 
ing cigarettes  and  drinking  something  out  of  a  glass;  and  how 
she  came  down  town  the  next  day  to  shop,  in  a  black  hat 
now  and  a  red-and-white  striped  dress  so  that  she  looked 
like  a  great  big  stick  of  candy  and  three  times  as  big  as 
Uncle  Willy  now,  walking  along  the  street  with  men  popping 
out  of  the  stores  when  she  passed  like  she  was  stepping  on 
a  line  of  spring  triggers  and  both  sides  of  her  behind  kind 
of  pumping  up  and  down  inside  the  dress  until  somebody 
hollered,  threw  back  his  head  and  squalled:  "YIPPEEE!" 
like  that  and  she  kind  of  twitched  her  behind  without  even 
stopping  and  then  they  hollered  sure  enough. 

And  the  next  day  the  wire  came  from  his  sister,  and  Papa 
for  the  lawyer  and  Mrs.  Merridew  for  the  witness  went  out 
there  and  Uncle  Willy's  wife  showed  them  the  license  and 
told  them  to  laugh  that  off,  that  Manuel  Street  or  not  she 
was  married  as  good  and  tight  as  any  high-nosed  bitch  in 
Jefferson  or  anywhere  else  and  Papa  saying,  "Now,  Mrs. 


238  The  Village 

Merridew;  now,  Mrs.  Christian,"  and  he  told  Uncle  Willy's 
wife  how  Uncle  Willy  was  bankrupt  now  and  might  even 
lose  the  house  too,  and  his  wife  said  how  about  that  sister 
in  Texas,  was  Papa  going  to  tell  her  that  the  oil  business  was 
bankrupt  too  and  not  to  make  her  laugh.  So  they  telegraphed 
the  sister  again  and  the  thousand  dollars  came  and  they  had 
to  give  Uncle  Willy's  wife  the  car  too.  She  went  back  to 
Memphis  that  same  afternoon,  driving  across  the  square  with 
the  straw  suitcases,  in  a  black  lace  dress  now  and  already 
beginning  to  sweat  again  under  her  new  makeup  because  it 
was  still  hot,  and  stopping  where  the  men  were  waiting  at 
the  post  office  for  the  afternoon  mail  and  she  said,  "Come 
on  up  to  Manuel  Street  and  see  me  sometime  and  I  will  show 
you  hicks  what  you  and  this  town  can  do  to  yourselves  and 
one  another." 

And  that  afternoon  Mrs.  Merridew  moved  back  into 
Uncle  Willy's  house  and  Papa  said  the  letter  she  wrote 
Uncle  Willy's  sister  had  eleven  pages  to  it  because  Papa  said 
she  would  never  forgive  Uncle  Willy  for  getting  bankrupted. 
We  could  hear  her  from  behind  the  hedge:  "You're  crazy, 
Mr.  Christian;  crazy.  I  have  tried  to  save  you  and  make 
something  out  of  you  besides  a  beast  but  now  my  patience 
is  exhausted.  I  am  going  to  give  you  one  more  chance.  I  am 
going  to  take  you  to  Keeley  and  if  that  fails,  I  am  going  to 
.take  you  myself  to  your  sister  and  force  her  to  commit  you 
to  an  asylum."  And  the  sister  sent  papers  from  Texas  declar- 
ing that  Uncle  Willy  was  incompetent  and  making  Mrs. 
Merridew  his  guardian  and  trustee,  and  Mrs.  Merridew  took 
him  to  the  Keeley  in  Memphis.  And  that  was  all. 

V 

THAT  is,  I  reckon  they  thought  that  that  was  all,  that  this 
lime  Uncle  Willy  would  surely  die.  Because  even  Papa 


Uncle  Willy  239 

thought  that  he  was  crazy  now  because  even  Papa  said  that 
if  it  hadn't  been  for  Uncle  Willy  I  would  not  have  run 
away,  and  therefore  I  didn't  run  away,  I  was  tolled  away 
by  a  lunatic;  it  wasn't  Papa,  it  was  Uncle  Robert  that  said 
that  he  wasn't  crazy  because  any  man  who  could  sell  Jeffer- 
son real  estate  for  cash  while  shut  up  in  r,  Keeley  institute 
wasn't  crazy  or  even  drunk.  Because  they  didn't  even  know 
that  he  was  out  of  Keeley,  even  Mrs.  Merridew  didn't  know 
it  until  he  was  gone  two  days  and  they  couldn't  find  him. 
They  never  did  find  him  or  find  out  how  he  got  out  and 
I  didn't  either  until  I  got  the  letter  from  him  to  take  the 
Memphis  bus  on  a  certain  day  and  he  would  meet  me  at  a 
stop  on  the  edge  of  Memphis.  I  didn't  even  realize  that  I  had 
not  seen  Secretary  or  old  Job  either  in  two  weeks.  But  he 
didn't  toll  me  away.  I  went  because  I  wanted  to,  because  he 
was  the  finest  man  I  ever  knew,  because  he  had  had  fun  all 
his  life  in  spite  of  what  they  had  tried  to  do  to  him  or  with 
him,  and  I  hoped  that  maybe  if  I  could  stay  with  him  a 
while  I  could  learn  how  to,  so  I  could  still  have  fun  too  when 
I  had  to  get  old.  Or  maybe  I  knew  more  than  that,  without 
knowing  it,  like  I  knew  that  I  would  do  anything  he  asked 
me  to  do,  no  matter  what  it  was,  just  like  I  helped  him  break 
into  the  store  for  the  alcohol  when  he  took  it  for  granted 
that  I  would  without  asking  me  to  at  all  and  then  helped 
him  hide  it  from  Mrs.  Merridew.  Maybe  I  even  knew  what 
old  Job  was  going  to  do.  Not  what  he  did  do,  but  that  he 
would  do  it  if  the  occasion  arose,  and  that  this  would  have 
to  be  Uncle  Willy's  last  go-round  and  if  I  wasn't  there  it 
would  be  just  him  against  all  the  old  terrified  and  timid  cling- 
ing to  dull  and  rule-ridden  breathing  which  Jefferson  was  to 
him  and  which,  even  though  he  had  escaped  Jefferson,  old 
Job  still  represented. 

So  I  cut  some  grass  that  week  and  I  had  almost  two  dollars. 
I  took  the  bus  on  the  day  he  said  and  he  was  waiting  for  me 


240  The  Village 

at  the  edge  of  town,  in  a  Ford  now  without  any  top  on  it  and 
you  could  still  read  the  chalk  letters,  $85  cash  on  the  wind- 
shield, and  a  brand  new  tent  folded  up  in  the  back  of  it  and 
Uncle  Willy  and  old  Job  in  the  front  seat,  and  Uncle  Willy 
looked  fine  with  a  checked  cap  new  except  for  a  big  oil 
stain,  with  the  bill  turned  round  behind  and  a  pair  of  goggles 
cocked  up  on  the  front  of  it  and  his  celluloid  collar  freshly 
washed  and  no  tie  in  it  and  his  nose  peeling  with  sunburn 
and  his  eyes  bright  behind  his  glasses.  I  would  have  gone 
with  him  anywhere;  I  would  do  it  over  again  right  now, 
knowing  what  was  going  to  happen.  He  would  not  have  to 
ask  me  now  any  more  than  he  did  then.  So  I  got  on  top  of  the 
tent  and  we  didn't  go  toward  town,  we  went  the  other  way. 
I  asked  where  we  were  going  but  he  just  said  wait,  rushing 
the  little  car  along  like  he  couldn't  get  there  quick  enough 
himself,  and  I  could  tell  from  his  voice  that  this  was  fine,  this 
was  the  best  yet,  better  than  anybody  else  could  have  thought 
about  doing,  and  old  Job  hunched  down  in  the  front  seat, 
holding  on  with  both  hands  and  yelling  at  Uncle  Willy  about 
going  so  fast.  Yes.  Maybe  i  knew  from  old  Job  even  then 
that  Uncle  Willy  may  have  escaped  Jefferson  but  he  had 
just  dodged  it;  he  hadn't  gotten  away. 

Then  we  came  to  the  sign,  the  arrow  that  said  Airport,  and 
we  turned  and  I  said:  "What?  What  is  it?"  but  Uncle  Willy 
just  said:  "Wait;  just  wait,"  like  he  couldn't  hardly  wait 
himself,  hunched  over  the  wheel  with  his  white  hair  blow- 
ing under  his  cap  and  his  collar  riding  up  behind  so  you 
could  see  his  neck  between  the  collar  and  the  shirt;  and  old 
Job  saying  (Oh  yes,  I  could  tell  even  then):  "He  got  hit,  all 
right.  He  done  done  hit.  But  I  done  tole  him.  Nemmine. 
I  done  warned  him."  Then  we  came  to  the  airport  and  Uncle 
Willy  stopped  quick  and  pointed  up  without  even  getting 
out  and  said,  "Look." 

It  was  an  airplane  flying  around  and  Uncle  Willy  running 


Uncle  Willy  241 

up  and  down  the  edge  of  the  field  waving  his  handkerchief 
until  it  saw  him  and  came  down  and  landed  and  rolled  up  to 
us,  a  little  airplane  with  a  two-cylinder  engine.  It  was  Secre- 
tary, in  another  new  checked  cap  and  goggles  like  Uncle 
Willy's  and  they  told  me  how  Uncle  Willy  had  bought  one 
for  old  Job  too  but  old  Job  wouldn't  wear  it.  And  that  night 
— we  stayed  in  a  little  tourist  camp  about  two  miles  away  and 
he  had  a  cap  and  goggles  all  ready  for  me  too;  and  then  I 
knew  why  they  hadn't  been  able  to  find  him — Uncle  Willy 
told  me  how  he  had  bought  the  airplane  with  some  of  the 
money  he  had  sold  his  house  for  after  his  sister  saved  it 
because  she  had  been  born  in  it  too,  but  that  Captain  Bean 
at  the  airport  wouldn't  teach  him  to  run  it  himself  because 
he  would  need  a  permit  from  a  doctor  ("By  God,"  Uncle 
Willy  said,  "damn  if  these  Republicans  and  Democrats  and 
XYZ's  ain't  going  to  have  it  soon  where  a  man  can't  even 
flush  the  toilet  in  his  own  bathroom.")  and  he  couldn't  go 
to  the  doctor  because  the  doctor  might  want  to  send  him 
back  to  the  Keeley  or  tell  Mrs.  Merridew  where  he  was.  So 
he  just  let  Secretary  learn  to  run  it  first  and  now  Secretary 
had  been  running  it  for  two  weeks,  which  was  almost  four- 
teen days  longer  than  he  had  practiced  on  the  car  before 
they  started  out  with  it.  So  Uncle  Willy  bought  the  car  and 
tent  and  camping  outfit  yesterday  and  tomorrow  we  were 
going  to  start.  We  would  go  first  to  a  place  named  Renfro 
where  nobody  knew  us  and  where  there  was  a  big  pasture 
that  Uncle  Willy  had  found  out  about  and  we  would  stay 
there  a  week  while  Secretary  taught  Uncle  Willy  to  run  the 
airplane.  Then  we  would  head  west.  When  we  ran  out  of 
the  house  money  we  would  stop  at  a  town  and  take  up  pas- 
sengers and  make  enough  to  buy  gasoline  and  food  to  get 
to  the  next  town,  Uncle  Willy  and  Secretary  in  the  airplane 
and  me  and  old  Job  in  the  car;  and  old  Job  sitting  in  a  chair 
against  the  wall,  blinking  at  Uncle  Willy  with  his  little  weak 


242  The  Village 

red  sullen  eyes,  and  Uncle  Willy  reared  up  on  the  cot  with 
his  cap  and  goggles  still  on  and  his  collar  without  any  tie  (it 
wasn't  fastened  to  his  shirt  at  all:  just  buttoned  around  his 
neck)  sometimes  sideways  and  sometimes  even  backward 
like  an  Episcopal  minister's,  and  his  eyes  bright  behind  his 
glasses  and  his  voice  bright  and  fine.  "And  by  Christmas  we 
will  be  in  California!"  he  said.  "Think  of  that.  Calif ornia!" 


VI 

So  HOW  could  they  say  that  I  had  to  be  tolled  away?  How 
could  they?  I  suppose  I  knew  then  that  it  wouldn't  work, 
couldn't  work,  that  it  was  too  fine  to  be  true.  I  reckon  I  even 
knew  how  it  was  going  to  end  just  from  the  glum  way  Secre- 
tary acted  whenever  Uncle  Willy  talked  about  learning  to 
run  the  airplane  himself,  just  as  I  knew  from  the  way  old  Job 
looked  at  Uncle  Willy,  not  what  he  did  of  course,  but  what 
he  would  do  if  the  occasion  arose.  Because  I  was  the  other 
white  one.  I  was  white,  even  if  old  Job  and  Secretary  were 
both  older  than  me,  so  it  would  be  all  right;  I  could  do  it  all 
right.  It  was  like  I  knew  even  then  that,  no  matter  what 
might  happen  to  him,  he  wouldn't  ever  die  and  I  thought 
that  if  I  could  just  learn  to  live  like  he  lived,  no  matter  what 
might  happen  to  me  I  wouldn't  ever  die  either. 

So  we  left  the  next  morning,  just  after  daylight  because 
there  was  another  fool  rule  that  Secretary  would  have  to 
stay  in  sight  of  the  field  until  they  gave  him  a  license  to  go 
away.  We  filled  the  airplane  with  gas  and  Secretary  went 
up  in  it  just  like  he  was  going  up  to  practice.  Then  Uncle 
Willy  got  us  into  the  car  quick  because  he  said  the  airplane 
could  make  sixty  miles  an  hour  and  so  Secretary  would  be 
at  Renfro  a  long  while  before  we  got  there.  But  when  we 
got  to  Renfro  Secretary  wasn't  there  and  we  put  the  tent  up 
and  ate  dinner  and  he  still  didn't  come  and  Uncle  Willy 


Uncle  Willy  243 

beginning  to  cuss  and  we  ate  supper  and  dark  came  but  Sec- 
retary didn't  and  Uncle  Willy  was  cussing  good  now.  He 
didn't  come  until  the  next  day.  We  heard  him  and  ran  out 
and  watched  him  fly  right  over  us,  coming  from  the  opposite 
direction  of  Memphis,  going  fast  and  us  all  hollering  and 
waving.  But  he  went  on,  with  Uncle  Willy  jumping  up  and 
down  and  cussing,  and  we  were  loading  the  tent  into  the  car 
to  try  to  catch  him  when  he  came  back.  We  didn't  hear  him 
at  all  now  and  we  could  see  the  propeller  because  it  wasn't 
running  and  it  looked  like  Secretary  wasn't  even  going  to 
light  in  the  pasture  but  he  was  going  to  light  in  some  trees 
on  the  edge  of  it.  But  he  skinned  by  them  and  kind  of 
bumped  down  and  we  ran  up  and  found  him  still  sitting  in 
the  airplane  with  his  eyes  closed  and  his  face  the  color  of 
wood  ashes  and  he  said,  "Captin,  will  you  please  tell  me 

where  to  find  Ren "  before  he  even  opened  his  eyes  to 

see  who  we  were.  He  said  he  had  landed  seven  times  yester- 
day and  it  wouldn't  be  Renfro  and  they  would  tell  him  how 
to  get  to  Renfro  and  he  would  go  there  and  that  wouldn't 
be  Renfro  either  and  he  had  slept  in  the  airplane  last  night 
and  he  hadn't  eaten  since  we  left  Memphis  because  he  had 
spent  the  three  dollars  Uncle  Willy  gave  him  for  gasoline  and 
if  he  hadn't  run  out  of  gas  when  he  did  he  wouldn't  never 
have  found  us. 

Uncle  Willy  wanted  me  to  go  to  town  and  get  some  more 
gas  so  he  could  start  learning  to  run  it  right  away  but  Secre- 
tary wouldn't.  He  just  refused.  He  said  the  airplane  belonged 
to  Uncle  Willy  and  he  reckoned  he  belonged  to  Uncle  Willy 
too,  leastways  until  he  got  back  home,  but  that  he  had  flown 
all  he  could  stand  for  a  while.  So  Uncle  Willy  started  the 
next  morning. 

I  thought  for  a  while  that  I  would  have  to  throw  old  Job 
down  and  hold  him  and  him  hollering,  "Don't  you  git  in  dat 
thing!"  and  still  hollering,  "I  ghy  tell  um!  I  ghy  tell  urn!" 


244  The  Village 

while  we  watched  the  airplane  with  Secretary  and  Uncle 
Willy  in  it  kind  of  jump  into  the  air  and  then  duck  down 
like  Uncle  Willy  was  trying  to  take  the  short  cut  to  China 
and  then  duck  up  again  and  get  to  going  pretty  straight  at 
last  and  fly  around  the  pasture  and  then  turn  down  to  land, 
and  every  day  old  Job  hollering  at  Uncle  Willy  and  field 
hands  coming  up  out  of  the  fields  and  folks  in  wagons  and 
walking  stopping  in  the  road  to  watch  them  and  the  airplane 
coming  down,  passing  us  with  Uncle  Willy  and  Secretary 
side  by  side  and  looking  exactly  alike,  I  don't  mean  in  the 
face  but  exactly  alike  like  two  tines  of  a  garden  fork  look 
exactly  like  just  before  they  chop  into  the  ground;  we  could 
see  Secretary's  eyes  and  his  mouth  run  out  so  you  could 
almost  hear  him  saying,  "Hooooooooo!"  and  Uncle  Willy's 
glasses  shining  and  his  hair  blowing  from  under  his  cap  and 
his  celluloid  collar  that  he  washed  every  night  before  he 
went  to  bed  and  no  tie  in  it  and  they  would  go  by,  fast,  and 
old  Job  hollering,  "You  git  outer  dar!  You  git  outer  dat 
thing!"  and  we  could  hear  Secretary  too:  "Turn  hit  loose, 
Unker  Willy!  Turn  hit  loosel "  and  the  airplane  would  go  on, 
ducking  up  one  second  and  down  the  next  and  with  one  wing 
higher  than  the  other  one  second  and  lower  die  next  and 
then  it  would  be  traveling  sideways  and  maybe  it  would  hit 
the  ground  sideways  the  first  time,  with  a  kind  of  crashing 
sound  and  the  dust  spurting  up  and  then  bounce  off  again 
and  Secretary  hollering,  "Unker  Willy!  Turn  loose!"  and  at 
night  in  the  tent  Uncle  Willy's  eyes  would  still  be  shining 
and  he  would  be  too  excited  to  stop  talking  and  go  to  sleep 
and  I  don't  believe  he  even  remembered  that  he  had  not 
taken  a  drink  since  he  first  thought  about  buying  the  air- 
plane. 

Oh  yes,  I  know  what  they  said  about  me  after  it  was  all 
over,  what  Papa  said  when  he  and  Mrs.  Merridew  got  there 
that  morning,  about  me  being  the  white  one,  almost  a  man, 


Uncle  Willy  245 

and  Secretary  and  old  Job  just  irresponsible  niggers,  yet  it 
was  old  Job  and  Secretary  who  tried  to  prevent  him.  Because 
that  was  it;  that  was  what  they  couldn't  understand. 

I  remember  the  last  night  and  Secretary  and  old  Job  both 
working  on  him,  when  old  Job  finally  made  Secretary  tell 
Uncle  Willy  that  he  would  never  learn  to  fly,  and  Uncle 
Willy  stopped  talking  and  stood  up  and  looked  at  Secretary. 
"Didn't  you  learn  to  run  it  in  two  weeks?"  he  said.  Secretary 
said  yes.  "You,  a  damn,  trifling,  worthless,  ignorant,  burr- 
headed  nigger?"  and  Secretary  said  yes.  "And  me  that  grad- 
uated from  a  university  and  ran  a  fifteen-thousand-dollar 
business  for  forty  years,  yet  you  tell  me  I  can't  learn  to  run 
a  damn  little  fifteen-hundred-dollar  airplane?"  Then  he 
looked  at  me.  "Don't  you  believe  I  can  run  it?"  he  said.  And 
I  looked  at  him  and  I  said,  "Yes.  I  believe  you  can  do  any- 
thing." 

VII 

AND  NOW  I  can't  tell  them.  I  can't  say  it.  Papa  told  me  once 
that  somebody  said  that  if  you  know  it  you  can  say  it.  Or 
maybe  the  man  that  said  that  didn't  count  fourteen-year-old 
boys.  Because  I  must  have  known  it  was  going  to  happen. 
And  Uncle  Willy  must  have  known  it  too,  known  that  the 
moment  would  come.  It  was  like  we  both  had  known  it  and 
we  didn't  even  have  to  compare  notes,  tell  one  another  that 
we  did:  he  not  needing  to  say  that  day  in  Memphis,  "Come 
with  me  so  you  will  be  there  when  I  will  need  you,"  and  me 
not  needing  to  say,  "Let  me  come  so  I  can  be  there  when 
you  will." 

Because  old  Job  telephoned  Mrs.  Merridew.  He  waited 
until  we  were  asleep  and  slipped  out  and  walked  all  the  way 
to  town  and  telephoned  her;  he  didn't  have  any  money  and 
he  probably  never  telephoned  in  his  life  before,  yet  he  tele- 


246  The  Village 

phoned  her  and  the  next  morning  he  came  up  running  in  the 
dew  (the  town,  the  telephone,  was  five  miles  away)  just  as 
Secretary  was  getting  the  engine  started  and  I  knew  what  he 
had  done  even  before  he  got  close  enough  to  holler,  running 
and  stumbling  along  slow  across  the  pasture,  hollering,  "Holt 
um!  Holt  um!  Dey'll  be  here  any  minute!  Jest  holt  um  ten 
minutes  en  dey'll  be  here,"  and  I  knew  and  I  ran  and  met  him 
and  now  I  did  hold  him  and  him  fighting  and  hitting  at  me 
and  still  hollering  at  Uncle  Willy  in  the  airplane.  "You  tele- 
phoned?" I  said.  "Her?  Her?  Told  her  where  he  is?" 

"Yes,"  Uncle  Job  hollered.  "En  she  say  she  gonter  git  yo 
pappy  and  start  right  away  and  be  here  by  six  o'clock,"  and 
me  holding  him;  he  felt  like  a  handful  of  scrawny  dried  sticks 
and  I  could  hear  his  lungs  wheezing  and  I  could  feel  his  heart, 
and  Secretary  came  up  running  too  and  old  Job  begun  to 
holler  at  Secretary,  "Git  him  outer  dar!  Dey  comin!  Dey  be 
here  any  minute  if  you  can  jest  holt  um!"  and  Secretary 
saying,  "Which?  Which?"  and  old  Job  hollered  at  him  to 
run  and  hold  the  airplane  and  Secretary  turned  and  I  tried  to 
grab  his  leg  but  I  couldn't  and  I  could  see  Uncle  Willy  look- 
ing toward  us  and  Secretary  running  toward  the  airplane 
and  I  got  onto  my  knees  and  waved  and  I  was  hollering  too. 
I  don't  reckon  Uncle  Willy  could  hear  me  for  the  engine. 
But  I  tell  you  he  didn't  need  to,  because  we  knew,  we  both 
knew;  and  so  I  knelt  there  and  held  old  Job  on  the  ground 
and  we  saw  the  airplane  start,  with  Secretary  still  running 
after  it,  and  jump  into  the  air  and  duck  down  and  then  jump 
up  again  and  then  it  looked  like  it  had  stopped  high  in  the 
air  above  the  trees  where  we  thought  Secretary  was  fixing  to 
land  that  first  day  before  it  ducked  down  beyond  them  and 
went  out  of  sight  and  Secretary  was  already  running  and  so 
it  was  only  me  and  Uncle  Job  that  had  to  get  up  and  start. 

Oh,  yes,  I  know  what  they  said  about  me;  I  knew  it  all  that 
afternoon  while  we  were  going  home  with  the  hearse  in  front 


Uncle  Willy  247 

and  Secretary  and  old  Job  in  the  Ford  next  and  Papa  and  me 
in  our  car  coming  last  and  Jefferson  getting  nearer  and 
nearer;  and  then  all  of  a  sudden  I  began  to  cry.  Because  the 
dying  wasn't  anything,  it  just  touched  the  outside  of  you 
that  you  wore  around  with  you  for  comfort  and  convenience 
like  you  do  your  clothes:  it  was  because  the  old  garments, 
the  clothes  that  were  not  worth  anything  had  betrayed  one 
of  the  two  of  us  and  the  one  betrayed  was  me,  and  Papa  with 
his  other  arm  around  my  shoulders  now,  saying,  "Now, 
now;  I  didn't  mean  that.  You  didn't  do  it.  Nobody  blames 
you." 

You  see?  That  was  it.  I  did  help  Uncle  Willy.  He  knows 
I  did.  He  knows  he  couldn't  have  done  it  without  me.  He 
knows  I  did;  we  didn't  even  have  to  look  at  one  another 
when  he  went.  That's  it. 

And  now  they  will  never  understand,  not  even  Papa,  and 
there  is  only  me  to  try  to  tell  them  and  how  can  I  ever  tell 
them,  and  make  them  understand?  How  can  I? 


Mule  in  the  Yard 


IT  WAS  a  gray  day  in  late  January,  though  not  cold  because 
of  the  fog.  Old  Het,  just  walked  in  from  the  poorhouse,  ran 
down  the  hall  toward  the  kitchen,  shouting  in  a  strong, 
bright,  happy  voice.  She  was  about  seventy  probably,  though 
by  her  own  counting,  calculated  from  the  ages  of  various 
housewives  in  the  town  from  brides  to  grandmothers  whom 
she  claimed  to  have  nursed  in  infancy,  she  would  have  to  be 
around  a  hundred  and  at  least  triplets.  Tall,  lean,  fog-beaded, 
in  tennis  shoes  and  a  long  rat-colored  cloak  trimmed  with 
what  forty  or  fifty  years  ago  had  been  fur,  a  modish  though 
not  new  purple  toque  set  upon  her  headrag  and  carrying 
(time  was  when  she  made  her  weekly  rounds  from  kitchen 
to  kitchen  carrying  a  brocaded  carpetbag  though  since  the 
advent  of  the  ten-cent  stores  the  carpetbag  became  an  endless 
succession  of  the  convenient  paper  receptacles  with  which 
they  supply  their  customers  for  a  few  cents)  the  shopping- 
bag,  she  ran  into  the  kitchen  and  shouted  with  strong  and 
childlike  pleasure:  "Miss  Mannie!  Mule  in  de  yard!" 

Mrs.  Hait,  stooping  to  the  stove,  in  the  act  of  drawing 
from  it  a  scuttle  of  live  ashes,  jerked  upright;  clutching  the 
scuttle,  she  glared  at  old  Het,  then  she  too  spoke  at  once, 
strong  too,  immediate.  "Them  sons  of  bitches,"  she  said.  She 
left  the  kitchen,  not  running  exactly,  yet  with  a  kind  of  out- 
raged celerity,  carrying  the  scuttle — a  compact  woman  of 

249 


250  The  Village 

forty-odd,  with  an  air  of  indomitable  yet  relieved  bereave- 
ment, as  though  that  which  had  relicted  her  had  been  a 
woman  and  a  not  particularly  valuable  one  at  that.  She  wore 
a  calico  wrapper  and  a  sweater  coat,  and  a  man's  felt  hat 
which  they  in  the  town  knew  had  belonged  to  her  ten  years' 
dead  husband.  But  the  man's  shoes  had  not  belonged  to  him. 
They  were  high  shoes  which  buttoned,  with  toes  like  small 
tulip  bulbs,  and  in  the  town  they  knew  that  she  had  bought 
them  new  for  herself.  She  and  old  Het  ran  down  the  kitchen 
steps  and  into  the  fog.  That's  why  it  was  not  cold:  as  though 
there  lay  supine  and  prisoned  between  earth  and  mist  the  long 
winter  night's  suspiration  of  the  sleeping  town  in  dark,  close 
rooms — the  slumber  and  the  rousing;  the  stale  waking  ther- 
mostatic,  by  re-heating  heat-engendered:  it  lay  like  a  scum  of 
cold  grease  upon  the  steps  and  the  wooden  entrance  to  the 
basement  and  upon  the  narrow  plank  walk  which  led  to  a 
shed  building  in  the  corner  of  the  yard:  upon  these  planks, 
running  and  still  carrying  the  scuttle  of  live  ashes,  Mrs.  Hait 
skated  viciously. 

"Watch  out! "  old  Het,  footed  securely  by  her  rubber  soles, 
cried  happily.  "Dey  in  de  front!"  Mrs.  Hait  did  not  fall.  She 
did  not  even  pause.  She  took  in  the  immediate  scene  with 
one  cold  glare  and  was  running  again  when  there  appeared  at 
the  corner  of  the  house  and  apparently  having  been  born 
before  their  eyes  of  the  fog  itself,  a  mule.  It  looked  taller 
than  a  giraffe.  Longheaded,  with  a  flying  halter  about  its 
scissorlike  ears,  it  rushed  down  upon  them  with  violent  and 
apparitionlike  suddenness. 

"Dar  hit!"  old  Het  cried,  waving  the  shopping-bag. 
"Hoo!"  Mrs.  Hait  whirled.  Again  she  skidded  savagely  on 
the  greasy  planks  as  she  and  the  mule  rushed  parallel  with 
one  another  toward  the  shed  building,  from  whose  open 
doorway  there  now  projected  the  static  and  astonished  face 
of  a  cow.  To  the  cow  the  fog-born  mule  doubtless  looked 


Mule  in  the  Yard  251 

taller  and  more  incredibly  sudden  than  a  giraffe  even,  and 
apparently  bent  upon  charging  right  through  the  shed  as 
though  it  were  made  of  straw  or  were  purely  and  simply 
mirage.  The  cow's  head  likewise  had  a  quality  transient  and 
abrupt  and  unmundane.  It  vanished,  sucked  into  invisibility 
like  a  match  flame,  though  the  mind  knew  and  the  reason 
insisted  that  she  had  withdrawn  into  the  shed,  from  which, 
as  proof's  burden,  there  came  an  indescribable  sound  of 
shock  and  alarm  by  shed  and  beast  engendered,  analogous  to 
a  single  note  from  a  profoundly  struck  lyre  or  harp.  Toward 
this  sound  Mrs.  Hait  sprang,  immediately,  as  if  by  pure  reflex, 
as  though  in  invulnerable  compact  of  female  with  female 
against  a  world  of  mule  and  man.  She  and  the  mule  con- 
verged upon  the  shed  at  top  speed,  the  heavy  scuttle  poised 
lightly  in  her  hand  to  hurl.  Of  course  it  did  not  take  this 
long,  and  likewise  it  was  the  mule  which  refused  the  gambit. 
Old  Het  was  still  shouting  "Dar  hit!  Dar  hit!"  when  it 
swerved  and  rushed  at  her  where  she  stood  tall  as  a  stove 
pipe,  holding  the  shopping-bag  which  she  swung  at  the  beast 
as  it  rushed  past  her  and  vanished  beyond  the  other  corner 
of  the  house  as  though  sucked  back  into  the  fog  which  had 
produced  it,  profound  and  instantaneous  and  without  any 
sound. 

With  that  unhasteful  celerity  Mrs.  Hait  turned  and  set 
the  scuttle  down  on  the  brick  coping  of  the  cellar  entrance 
and  she  and  old  Het  turned  the  corner  of  the  house  in  time  to 
see  the  now  wraithlike  mule  at  the  moment  when  its  course 
converged  with  that  of  a  choleric-looking  rooster  and  eight 
Rhode  Island  Red  hens  emerging  from  beneath  the  house. 
Then  for  an  instant  its  progress  assumed  the  appearance  and 
trappings  of  an  apotheosis:  hell-born  and  hell-returning,  in 
the  act  of  dissolving  completely  into  the  fog,  it  seemed  to  rise 
vanishing  into  a  sunless  and  dimensionless  medium  borne 
upon  and  enclosed  by  small  winged  goblins. 


252  The  Village 

"Dey's  mo  in  de  front!"  old  Het  cried. 

"Them  sons  of  bitches,"  Mrs.  Hait  said,  again  in  that  grim, 
prescient  voice  without  rancor  or  heat.  It  was  not  the  mules 
to  which  she  referred;  it  was  not  even  the  owner  of  them.  It 
was  her  whole  town-dwelling  history  as  dated  from  that 
April  dawn  ten  years  ago  when  what  was  left  of  Hait  had 
been  gathered  from  the  mangled  remains  of  five  mules  and 
several  feet  of  new  Manila  rope  on  a  blind  curve  of  the  rail- 
road just  out  of  town;  the  geographical  hap  of  her  very 
home;  the  very  components  of  her  bereavement — the  mules, 
the  defunct  husband,  and  the  owner  of  them.  His  name  was 
Snopes;  in  the  town  they  knew  about  him  too — how  he 
bought  his  stock  at  the  Memphis  market  and  brought  it  to 
Jefferson  and  sold  it  to  farmers  and  widows  and  orphans 
black  and  white,  for  whatever  he  could  contrive — down  to  a 
certain  figure;  and  about  how  (usually  in  the  dead  season  of 
winter)  teams  and  even  small  droves  of  his  stock  would  es- 
cape from  the  fenced  pasture  where  he  kept  them  and,  tied 
one  to  another  with  sometimes  quite  new  hemp  rope  (and 
which  item  Snopes  included  in  the  subsequent  claim),  would 
be  annihilated  by  freight  trains  on  the  same  blind  curve 
which  was  to  be  the  scene  of  Halt's  exit  from  this  world; 
once  a  town  wag  sent  him  through  the  mail  a  printed  train 
schedule  for  the  division.  A  squat,  pasty  man  perennially  tie- 
less  and  with  a  strained,  harried  expression,  at  stated  intervals 
he  passed  athwart  the  peaceful  and  somnolent  life  of  the 
town  in  dust  and  uproar,  his  advent  heralded  by  shouts  and 
cries,  his  passing  marked  by  a  yellow  cloud  filled  with  toss- 
ing jug-shaped  heads  and  clattering  hooves  and  the  same  for- 
lorn and  earnest  cries  of  the  drovers;  and  last  of  all  and  well 
back  out  of  the  dust,  Snopes  himself  moving  at  a  harried  and 
panting  trot,  since  it  was  said  in  the  town  that  he  was  deathly 
afraid  of  the  very  beasts  in  which  he  cleverly  dealt. 

The  path  which  he  must  follow  from  the  railroad  station 


Mule  in  the  Yard  253 

to  his  pasture  crossed  the  edge  of  town  near  Halt's  home; 
Hait  and  Mrs.  Hait  had  not  been  in  the  house  a  week  before 
they  waked  one  morning  to  find  it  surrounded  by  galloping 
mules  and  the  air  filled  with  the  shouts  and  cries  of  the  dro- 
vers. But  it  was  not  until  that  April  dawn  some  years  later, 
when  those  who  reached  the  scene  first  found  what  might  be 
termed  foreign  matter  among  the  mangled  mules  and  the 
savage  fragments  of  new  rope,  that  the  town  suspected  that 
Hait  stood  in  any  closer  relationship  to  Snopes  and  the  mules 
than  that-  of  helping  at  periodical  intervals  to  drive  them  out 
of  his  front  yard.  After  that  they  believed  that  they  knew;  in 
a  three  days'  recess  of  interest,  surprise,  and  curiosity  they 
watched  to  see  if  Snopes  would  try  to  collect  on  Hait  also. 

But  they  learned  only  that  the  adjuster  appeared  and  called 
upon  Mrs.  Hait  and  that  a  few  days  later  she  cashed  a  check 
for  eight  thousand  five  hundred  dollars,  since  this  was  back 
in  the  old  halcyon  days  when  even  the  companies  considered 
their  southern  branches  and  divisions  the  legitimate  prey  of 
all  who  dwelt  beside  them.  She  took  the  cash:  she  stood  in 
her  sweater  coat  and  the  hat  which  Hait  had  been  wearing 
on  the  fatal  morning  a  week  ago  and  listened  in  cold,  grim 
silence  while  the  teller  counted  the  money  and  the  president 
and  the  cashier  tried  to  explain  to  her  the  virtues  of  a  bond, 
then  of  a  savings  account,  then  of  a  checking  account,  and 
departed  with  the  money  in  a  salt  sack  under  her  apron;  after 
a  time  she  painted  her  house:  that  serviceable  and  time-defy- 
ing color  which  the  railroad  station  was  painted,  as  though 
out  of  sentiment  or  (as  some  said)  gratitude. 

The  adjuster  also  summoned  Snopes  into  conference,  from 
which  he  emerged  not  only  more  harried-looking  than  ever, 
but  with  his  face  stamped  with  a  bewildered  dismay  which  it 
was  to  wear  from  then  on,  and  that  was  the  last  time  his  pas- 
ture fence  was  ever  to  give  inexplicably  away  at  dead  of 
night  upon  mules  coupled  in  threes  and  fours  by  adeauate 


254  The  Village 

rope  even  though  not  always  new.  And  then  it  seemed  as 
though  the  mules  themselves  knew  this,  as  if,  even  while  hal- 
tered at  the  Memphis  block  at  his  bid,  they  sensed  it  somehow 
as  they  sensed  that  he  was  afraid  of  them.  Now,  three  or  four 
times  a  year  and  as  though  by  fiendish  concord  and  as  soon 
as  they  were  freed  of  the  box  car,  the  entire  uproar — the  dust 
cloud  filled  with  shouts  earnest,  harried,  and  dismayed,  with 
plunging  demoniac  shapes — would  become  translated  in  a 
single  burst  of  perverse  and  uncontrollable  violence,  without 
any  intervening  contact  with  time,  space,  or  earth,  across 
the  peaceful  and  astonished  town  and  into  Mrs.  Hait's  yard, 
where,  in  a  certain  hapless  despair  which  abrogated  for  the 
moment  even  physical  fear,  Snopes  ducked  and  dodged 
among  the  thundering  shapes  about  the  house  (for  whose 
very  impervious  paint  the  town  believed  that  he  felt  he  had 
paid  and  whose  inmate  lived  within  it  a  life  of  idle  and  queen- 
like  ease  on  money  which  he  considered  at  least  partly  his 
own)  while  gradually  that  section  and  neighborhood  gath- 
ered to  look  on  from  behind  adjacent  window  curtains  and 
porches  screened  and  not,  and  from  the  sidewalks  and  even 
from  halted  wagons  and  cars  in  the  street — housewives  in  the 
wrappers  and  boudoir  caps  of  morning,  children  on  the  way 
to  school,  casual  Negroes  and  casual  whites  in  static  and  en- 
tertained repose. 

They  were  all  there  when,  followed  by  old  Het  and  carry- 
ing the  stub  of  a  worn-out  broom,  Mrs.  Hait  ran  around  the 
next  corner  and  onto  the  handkerchief-sized  plot  of  earth 
which  she  called  her  front  yard.  It  was  small;  any  creature 
with  a  running  stride  of  three  feet  could  have  spanned  it  in 
two  paces,  yet  at  the  moment,  due  perhaps  to  the  myopic 
and  distortive  quality  of  the  fog,  it  seemed  to  be  as  incredibly 
full  of  mad  life  as  a  drop  of  water  beneath  the  microscope. 
Yet  again  she  did  not  falter.  With  the  broom  clutched  in  her 
hand  and  apparently  with  a  kind  of  sublime  faith  in  her  own 


Mule  in  the  Yard  255 

invulnerability,  she  rushed  on  after  the  haltered  mule  which 
was  still  in  that  arrested  and  wraithlike  process  of  vanishing 
furiously  into  the  fog,  its  wake  indicated  by  the  tossing  and 
dispersing  shapes  of  the  nine  chickens  like  so  many  jagged 
scraps  of  paper  in  the  dying  air  blast  of  an  automobile,  and 
the  madly  dodging  figure  of  a  man.  The  man  was  Snopes; 
beaded  too  with  moisture,  his  wild  face  gaped  with  hoarse 
shouting  and  the  two  heavy  lines  of  shaven  beard  descending 
from  the  corners  of  it  as  though  in  alluvial  retrospect  of  years 
of  tobacco,  he  screamed  at  her:  "Fore  God,  Miz  Haiti  I  done 
everything  I  could!"  She  didn't  even  look  at  him. 

"Ketch  that  big  un  with  the  bridle  on,"  she  said  in  her  cold, 
panting  voice.  "Git  that  big  un  outen  here." 

"Sho!"  Snopes  shrieked.  "Jest  let  urn  take  their  time.  Jest 
don't  git  um  excited  now." 

"Watch  out!"  old  Het  shouted.  "He  headin  fer  de  back 
again!'' 

"Git  the  rope,"  Mrs.  Halt  said,  running  again.  Snopes 
glared  back  at  old  Het. 

"Fore  God,  where  is  ere  rope?"  he  shouted. 

"In  de  cellar  fo  God!"  old  Het  shouted,  also  without  paus- 
ing. "Go  roun  de  udder  way  en  head  um."  Again  she  and 
Mrs.  Halt  turned  the  corner  in  time  to  see  again  the  still-van- 
ishing mule  with  the  halter  once  more  in  the  act  of  floating 
lightly  onward  in  its  cloud  of  chickens  with  which,  they 
being  able  to  pass  under  the  house  and  so  on  the  chord  of  a 
circle  while  it  had  to  go  around  on  the  arc,  it  had  once  more 
coincided.  When  they  turned  the  next  corner  they  were  in 
the  back  yard  again. 

"Fo  God!"  old  Het  cried.  "He  fixin  to  misuse  de  cow!" 
For  they  had  gained  on  the  mule  now,  since  it  had  stopped. 
In  fact,  they  came  around  the  corner  on  a  tableau.  The  cow 
now  stood  in  the  centre  of  the  yard.  She  and  the  mule  faced 
one  another  a  few  feet  apart.  Motionless,  with  lowered  heads 


256  The  Village 

and  braced  forelegs,  they  looked  like  two  book  ends  from 
two  distinct  pairs  of  a  general  pattern  which  some  one  of 
amateurly  bucolic  leanings  might  have  purchased,  and  which 
some  child  had  salvaged,  brought  into  idle  juxtaposition  and 
then  forgotten;  and,  his  head  and  shoulders  projecting  above 
the  back-flung  slant  of  the  cellar  entrance  where  the  scuttle 
still  sat,  Snopes  standing  as  though  buried  to  the  armpits  for 
a  Spanish-Indian-American  suttee.  Only  again  it  did  not  take 
this  long.  It  was  less  than  tableau;  it  was  one  of  those  things 
which  later  even  memory  cannot  quite  affirm.  Now  and  in 
turn,  man  and  cow  and  mule  vanished  beyond  the  next  cor- 
ner, Snopes  now  in  the  lead,  carrying  the  rope,  the  cow  next 
with  her  tail  rigid  and  raked  slightly  like  the  stern  staff  of  a 
boat.  Mrs.  Hait  and  old  Het  ran  on,  passing  the  open  cellar 
gaping  upon  its  accumulation  of  human  necessities  and  wid- 
owed womanyears — boxes  for  kindling  wood,  old  papers  and 
magazines,  the  broken  and  outworn  furniture  and  utensils 
which  no  woman  ever  throws  away;  a  pile  of  coal  and  an- 
other of  pitch  pine  for  priming  fires — and  ran  on  and  turned 
the  next  corner  to  see  man  and  cow  and  mule  all  vanishing 
now  in  the  wild  cloud  of  ubiquitous  chickens  which  had  once 
more  crossed  beneath  the  house  and  emerged.  They  ran  on, 
Mrs.  Hait  in  grim  and  unflagging  silence,  old  Het  with  the 
eager  and  happy  amazement  of  a  child.  But  when  they  gained 
the  front  again  they  saw  only  Snopes.  He  lay  flat  on  his 
stomach,  his  head  and  shoulders  upreared  by  his  outstretched 
arms,  his  coat  tail  swept  forward  by  its  own  arrested  momen- 
tum about  his  head  so  that  from  beneath  it  his  slack-jawed 
face  mused  in  wild  repose  like  that  of  a  burlesqued  nun. 

"Whar'd  dey  go?"  old  Het  shouted  at  him.  He  didn't 
answer. 

uDey  tightenin'  on  de  curves!"  she  cried.  "Dey  already  in 
de  back  again!"  That's  where  they  were.  The  cow  made  a 
feint  at  running  into  her  shed,  but  deciding  perhaps  that  her 


Mule  in  the  Yard  257 

speed  was  too  great,  she  whirled  in  a  final  desperation  of 
despair-like  valor.  But  they  did  not  see  this,  nor  see  the  mule, 
swerving  to  pass  her,  crash  and  blunder  for  an  instant  at  the 
open  cellar  door  before  going  on.  When  they  arrived,  the 
mule  was  gone.  The  scuttle  was  gone  too,  but  they  did  not 
notice  it;  they  saw  only  the  cow  standing  in  the  centre  of  the 
yard  as  before,  panting,  rigid,  with  braced  forelegs  and  low- 
ered head  facing  nothing,  as  if  the  child  had  returned  and  re- 
moved one  of  the  book  ends  for  some  newer  purpose  or 
game.  They  ran  on.  Mrs.  Hait  ran  heavily  now,  her  mouth 
too  open,  her  face  putty-colored  and  one  hand  pressed  to  her 
side.  So  slow  was  their  progress  that  the  mule  in  its  third 
circuit  of  the  house  overtook  them  from  behind  and  soared 
past  with  undiminished  speed,  with  brief  demon  thunder  and 
a  keen  ammonia-sweet  reek  of  sweat  sudden  and  sharp  as  a 
jeering  cry,  and  was  gone.  Yet  they  ran  doggedly  on  around 
the  next  corner  in  time  to  see  it  succeed  at  last  in  vanishing 
into  the  fog;  they  heard  its  hoofs,  brief,  staccato,  and  derisive, 
on  the  paved  street,  dying  away. 

"Well!"  old  Het  said,  stopping.  She  panted,  happily. 
"Gentlemen,  hush!  Ain't  we  had — "  Then  she  became  stone 
still;  slowly  her  head  turned,  high-nosed,  her  nostrils  pulsing; 
perhaps  for  the  instant  she  saw  the  open  cellar  door  as  they 
had  last  passed  it,  with  no  scuttle  beside  it.  "Fo  God  I  smells 
smoke!"  she  said.  "Chile,  run,  git  yo  money." 

That  was  still  early,  not  yet  ten  o'clock.  By  noon  the 
house  had  burned  to  the  ground.  There  was  a  farmers'  sup- 
ply store  where  Snopes  could  be  usually  found;  more  than 
one  had  made  a  point  of  finding  him  there  by  that  time.  They 
told  him  about  how  when  the  fire  engine  and  the  crowd 
reached  the  scene,  Mrs.  Hait,  followed  by  old  Het  carrying 
her  shopping-bag  in  one  hand  and  a  framed  portrait  of  Mr. 
Hait  in  the  other,  emerged  with  an  umbrella  and  wearing  a 
new,  dun-colored,  mail-order  coat,  in  one  pocket  of  which 


258  The  Villag* 

lay  a  fruit  jar  filled  with  smoothly  rolled  banknotes  and  in  the 
other  a  heavy,  nickel-plated  pistol,  and  crossed  the  street  to 
the  house  opposite,  where  with  old  Het  beside  her  in  another 
rocker,  she  had  been  sitting  ever  since  on  the  veranda,  grim, 
inscrutable,  the  two  of  them  rocking  steadily,  while  hoarse 
and  tireless  men  hurled  her  dishes  and  furniture  and  bedding 
up  and  down  the  street. 

"What  are  you  telling  me  for?"  Snopes  said.  "Hit  warn't 
me  that  set  that  ere  scuttle  of  live  fire  where  the  first  thing 
that  passed  would  knock  hit  into  the  cellar." 

"It  was  you  that  opened  the  cellar  door,  though." 

"Sho.  And  for  what?  To  git  that  rope,  her  own  rope, 
where  she  told  me  to  git  it." 

"To  catch  your  mule  with,  that  was  trespassing  on  her 
property.  You  can't  get  out  of  it  this  time,  I.  O.  There  ain't 
a  jury  in  the  county  that  won't  find  for  her." 

"Yes.  I  reckon  not.  And  just  because  she  is  a  woman. 
That's  why.  Because  she  is  a  durn  woman.  All  right.  Let  her 
go  to  her  durn  jury  with  hit.  I  can  talk  too;  I  reckon  hit's  a 
few  things  I  could  tell  a  jury  myself  about — "  He  ceased. 
They  were  watching  him. 

"What?  Tell  a  jury  about  what?" 

"Nothing.  Because  hit  ain't  going  to  no  jury.  A  jury  be- 
tween her  and  me?  Me  and  Mannie  Hait?  You  boys  don't 
know  her  if  you  think  she's  going  to  make  trouble  over  a 
pure  acci-dent  couldn't  nobody  help.  Why,  there  ain't  a 
fairer,  finer  woman  in  the  county  than  Miz  Mannie  Hait.  I 
just  wisht  I  had  a  opportunity  to  tell  her  so."  The  opportu- 
nity came  at  once.  Old  Het  was  behind  her,  carrying  the 
shopping-bag.  Mrs.  Hait  looked  once,  quietly,  about  at  the 
faces,  making  no  response  to  the  murmur  of  curious  saluta- 
tion, then  not  again.  She  didn't  look  at  Snopes  long  either, 
nor  talk  to  him  long. 

"I  come  to  buy  that  mule,"  she  said. 


Mule  in  the  Yard  259 

"What  mule?"  They  looked  at  one  another.  "You'd  like 
to  own  that  mule?"  She  looked  at  him.  "Hit'll  cost  you  a 
hundred  and  fifty,  Miz  Mannie." 

"You  mean  dollars?" 

"I  don't  mean  dimes  nor  nickels  neither,  Miz  Mannie." 

"Dollars,"  she  said.  "That's  more  than  mules  was  in  Halt's 


time." 


"Lots  of  things  is  different  since  Halt's  time.  Including 
you  and  me." 

"I  reckon  so,"  she  said.  Then  she  went  away.  She  turned 
without  a  word,  old  Het  following. 

"Maybe  one  of  them  others  you  looked  at  this  morning 
would  suit  you,"  Snopes  said.  She  didn't  answer.  Then  they 
were  gone. 

"I  don't  know  as  I  would  have  said  that  last  to  her,"  one 
said. 

"What  for?"  Snopes  said.  "If  she  was  aiming  to  law  some- 
thing outen  me  about  that  fire,  you  reckon  she  would  have 
come  and  offered  to  pay  me  money  for  hit?"  That  was  about 
one  o'clock.  About  four  o'clock  he  was  shouldering  his  way 
through  a  throng  of  Negroes  before  a  cheap  grocery  store 
when  one  called  his  name.  It  was  old  Het,  the  now  bulging 
shopping-bag  on  her  arm,  eating  bananas  from  a  paper  sack. 

"Fo  God  I  wuz  jest  dis  minute  huntin  fer  you,"  she  said. 
She  handed  the  banana  to  a  woman  beside  her  and  delved  and 
fumbled  in  the  shopping-bag  and  extended  a  greenback. 
"Miz  Mannie  gimme  dis  to  give  you;  I  wuz  jest  on  de  way 
to  de  sto  whar  you  stay  at.  Here."  He  took  the  bill. 

"What's  this?  From  Miz  Hait?" 

"Fer  de  mule."  The  bill  was  for  ten  dollars.  "You  don't 
need  to  gimme  no  receipt.  I  kin  be  de  witness  I  give  hit  to 
you." 

"Ten  dollars?  For  that  mule?  I  told  her  a  hundred  and 
fifty  dollars." 


260  The  Village 

"You'll  have  to  fix  dat  up  wid  her  yo'self.  She  jest  gimme 
dis  to  give  ter  you  when  she  sot  out  to  fetch  de  mule." 

"Set  out  to  fetch —  She  went  out  there  herself  and  taken 
my  mule  outen  my  pasture?" 

"Lawd,  chile,"  old  Het  said,  "Miz  Mannie  ain't  skeered  of 
no  mule.  Ain't  you  done  foun  dat  out?" 

And  then  it  became  late,  what  with  the  yet  short  winter 
days;  when  she  came  in  sight  of  the  two  gaunt  chimneys 
against  the  sunset,  evening  was  already  finding  itself.  But  she 
could  smell  the  ham  cooking  before  she  came  in  sight  of  the 
cow  shed  even,  though  she  could  not  see  it  until  she  came 
around  in  front  where  the  fire  burned  beneath  an  iron  skillet 
set  on  bricks  and  where  nearby  Mrs.  Hait  was  milking  the 
cow.  "Well,"  old  Het  said,  "you  is  settled  down,  ain't  you?" 
She  looked  into  the  shed,  neated  and  raked  and  swept  even, 
and  floored  now  with  fresh  hay.  A  clean  new  lantern  burned 
on  a  box,  beside  it  a  pallet  bed  was  spread  neatly  on  the  straw 
and  turned  neatly  back  for  the  night.  "Why,  you  is  fixed 
up,"  she  said  with  pleased  astonishment.  Within  the  door  was 
a  kitchen  chair.  She  drew  it  out  and  sat  down  beside  the 
skillet  and  laid  the  bulging  shopping-bag  beside  her. 

"I'll  tend  dis  meat  whilst  you  milks.  I'd  offer  to  strip  dat 
cow  fer  you  ef  I  wuzn't  so  wo  out  wid  all  dis  excitement  we 
been  had."  She  looked  around  her.  "I  don't  believe  I  sees  yo 
new  mule,  dough."  Mrs.  Hait  grunted,  her  head  against  the 
cow's  flank.  After  a  moment  she  said, 

"Did  you  give  him  that  money?" 

"I  give  um  ter  him.  He  ack  surprise  at  first,  lak  maybe  he 
think  you  didn't  aim  to  trade  dat  quick.  I  tole  him  to  settle  de 
details  wid  you  later.  He  taken  de  money,  dough.  So  I  reckin 
dat's  offen  his  mine  en  yo'n  bofe."  Again  Mrs.  Hait  grunted. 
Old  Het  turned  the  ham  in  the  skillet.  Beside  it  the  coffee  pot 
bubbled  and  steamed.  "Cawfee  smell  good  too,"  she  said.  "I 
ain't  had  no  appetite  in  years  now.  A  bird  couldn't  live  on  de 
vittles  I  eats.  But  jest  lemme  git  a  whiff  er  cawfee  en  seem  lak 


Mule  in  the  Yard  261 

hit  always  whets  me  a  little.  Now,  ef  you  jest  had  nudder 
little  piece  o  dis  ham,  now —  Fo  God,  you  got  company 
aready."  But  Mrs.  Hait  did  not  even  look  up  until  she  had 
finished.  Then  she  turned  without  rising  from  the  box  on 
which  she  sat. 

"I  reckon  you  and  me  better  have  a  little  talk,"  Snopes  said. 
"I  reckon  I  got  something  that  belongs  to  you  and  I  hear  you 
got  something  that  belongs  to  me."  He  looked  about,  quickly, 
ceaselessly,  while  old  Het  watched  him.  He  turned  to  her. 
"You  go  away,  aunty.  I  don't  reckon  you  want  to  set  here 
and  listen  to  us." 

uLawd,  honey,"  old  Het  said.  "Don't  you  mind  me.  I  done 
already  had  so  much  troubles  myself  dat  I  kin  set  en  listen 
to  udder  folks'  widout  hit  worryin  me  a-tall.  You  gawn  talk 
whut  you  came  ter  talk;  I  jest  set  here  en  tend  de  ham." 
Snopes  looked  at  Mrs.  Hait. 

"Ain't  you  going  to  make  her  go  away?"  he  said. 

"What  for?"  Mrs.  Hait  said.  "I  reckon  she  ain't  the  first 
critter  that  ever  come  on  this  yard  when  hit  wanted  and 
went  or  stayed  when  hit  liked."  Snopes  made  a  gesture,  brief, 
fretted,  restrained. 

"Well,"  he  said.  "All  right.  So  you  taken  the  mule." 

"I  paid  you  for  it.  She  give  you  the  money." 

"Ten  dollars.  For  a  hundred-and-fifty-dollar  mule.  Ten 
dollars." 

"I  don't  know  anything  about  hundred-and-fifty-dollar 
mules.  All  I  know  is  what  the  railroad  paid."  Now  Snopes 
looked  at  her  for  a  full  moment. 

"What  do  you  mean?" 

"Them  sixty  dollars  a  head  the  railroad  used  to  pay  you  for 
mules  back  when  you  and  Hait " 

"Hush,"  Snopes  said;  he  looked  about  again,  quick,  cease- 
less. "All  right.  Even  call  it  sixty  dollars.  But  you  just  sent 
me  ten." 

"Yes.  I  sent  you  the  difference."  He  looked  at  her,  per- 


262  The  Village 

fectly  still.  "Between  that  mule  and  what  you  owed  Halt." 

"What  I  owed " 

"For  getting  them  five  mules  onto  the  tr " 

"Hush!"  he  cried.  "Hush!"  Her  voice  went  on,  cold,  grim, 
level. 

"For  helping  you.  You  paid  him  fifty  dollars  each  time, 
and  the  railroad  paid  you  sixty  dollars  a  head  for  the  mules. 
Ain't  that  right?"  He  watched  her.  "The  last  time  you  never 
paid  him.  So  I  taken  that  mule  instead.  And  I  sent  you  the  ten 
dollars  difference." 

"Yes,"  he  said  in  a  tone  of  quiet,  swift,  profound  bemuse- 
ment;  then  he  cried:  "But  look!  Here's  where  I  got  you.  Hit 
was  our  agreement  that  I  wouldn't  never  owe  him  nothing 
until  after  the  mules  was " 

"I  reckon  you  better  hush  yourself,"  Mrs.  Halt  said. 

" — until  hit  was  over.  And  this  time,  when  over  had  come, 
I  never  owed  nobody  no  money  because  the  man  hit  would 
have  been  owed  to  wasn't  nobody,"  he  cried  triumphantly. 
"You  see?"  Sitting  on  the  box,  motionless,  downlooking,  Mrs, 
Hait  seemed  to  muse.  "So  you  just  take  your  ten  dollars  back 
and  tell  me  where  my  mule  is  and  we'll  just  go  back  good 
friends  to  where  we  started  at.  Fore  God,  I'm  as  sorry  as  ere 
a  living  man  about  that  fire " 

"Fo  God!"  old  Het  said,  "hit  was  a  blaze,  wuzn't  it?" 

" — but  likely  with  all  that  ere  railroad  money  you  still  got, 
you  just  been  wanting  a  chance  to  build  new,  all  along.  So 
here.  Take  hit."  He  put  the  money  into  her  hand.  "Where's 
my  mule?"  But  Mrs.  Hait  didn't  move  at  once. 

"You  want  to  give  it  back  to  me?"  she  said. 

"Sho.  We  been  friends  all  the  time;  now  we'll  just  go  back 
to  where  we  left  off  being.  I  don't  hold  no  hard  feelings  and 
don't  you  hold  none.  Where  you  got  the  mule  hid?" 

"Up  at  the  end  of  that  ravine  ditch  behind  Spilmer's," 
she  said. 


Mule  in  the  Yard  263 

"Sho.  I  know.  A  good,  sheltered  place,  since  you  ain't  got 
nere  barn.  Only  if  you'd  a  just  left  hit  in  the  pasture,  hit 
would  a  saved  us  both  trouble.  But  hit  ain't  no  hard  feelings 
though.  And  so  I'll  bid  you  goodnight.  You're  all  fixed  up, 
I  see.  I  reckon  you  could  save  some  more  money  by  not 
building  no  house  a-tall." 

"I  reckon  I  could,"  Mrs.  Hait  said.  But  he  was  gone. 

"Whut  did  you  leave  de  mule  dar  fer?"  old  Het  said. 

"I  reckon  that's  far  enough,"  Mrs.  Hait  said. 

"Fer  enough?"  But  Mrs.  Hait  came  and  looked  into  the 
skillet,  and  old  Het  said,  "Wuz  hit  me  er  you  dat  mentioned 
something  erbout  er  nudder  piece  o  dis  ham?"  So  they  were 
both  eating  when  in  the  not-quite-yet  accomplished  twilight 
Snopes  returned.  He  came  up  quietly  and  stood,  holding  his 
hands  to  the  blaze  as  if  he  were  quite  cold.  He  did  not  look 
at  any  one  now. 

"I  reckon  I'll  take  that  ere  ten  dollars,"  he  said. 

"What  ten  dollars?"  Mrs.  Hait  said.  He  seemed  to  muse 
upon  the  fire.  Mrs.  Hait  and  old  Het  chewed  quietly,  old  Het 
alone  watching  him. 

"You  ain't  going  to  give  hit  back  to  me?"  he  said. 

"You  was  the  one  that  said  to  let's  go  back  to  where  we 
started,"  Mrs.  Hait  said. 

"Fo  God  you  wuz,  en  dat's  de  fack,"  old  Het  said.  Snopes 
mused  upon  the  fire;  he  spoke  in  a  tone  of  musing  and  amazed 
despair: 

"I  go  to  the  worry  and  the  risk  and  the  agoment  for  years 
and  years  and  I  get  sixty  dollars.  And  you,  one  time,  without 
no  trouble  and  no  risk,  without  even  knowing  you  are  going 
to  git  it,  git  eighty-five  hundred  dollars.  I  never  begrudged 
hit  to  you;  can't  nere  a  man  say  I  did,  even  if  hit  did  seem  a 
little  strange  that  you  should  git  it  all  when  he  wasn't  work- 
ing for  you  and  you  never  even  knowed  where  he  was  at  and 
what  doing;  that  all  you  done  to  git  it  was  to  be  married  to 


264  The  Village 

him.  And  now,  after  all  these  ten  years  of  not  begrudging 
you  hit,  you  taken  the  best  mule  I  had  and  you  ain't  even 
going  to  pay  me  ten  dollars  for  hit.  Hit  ain't  right.  Hit  ain't 
justice." 

"You  got  de  mule  back,  en  you  ain't  satisfried  yit,"  old  Het 
said.  "Whut  does  you  want?"  Now  Snopes  looked  at  Mrs. 
Hait. 

"For  the  last  time  I  ask  hit,"  he  said.  "Will  you  or  won't 
you  give  hit  back?" 

"Give  what  back?"  Mrs.  Hait  said.  Snopes  turned.  He 
stumbled  over  something — :it  was  old  Het's  shopping-bag — 
and  recovered  and  went  on.  They  could  see  him  in  silhou- 
ette, as  though  framed  by  the  two  blackened  chimneys 
against  the  dying  west;  they  saw  him  fling  up  both  clenched 
hands  in  a  gesture  almost  Gallic,  of  resignation  and  impotent 
despair.  Then  he  was  gone.  Old  Het  was  watching  Mrs.  Hait. 

"Honey,"  she  said.  "Whut  did  you  do  wid  de  mule?"  Mrs. 
Hait  leaned  forward  to  the  fire.  On  her  plate  lay  a  stale  bis- 
cuit. She  lifted  the  skillet  and  poured  over  the  biscuit  the 
grease  in  which  the  ham  had  cooked. 

"I  shot  it,"  she  said. 

"You  which?"  old  Het  said.  Mrs.  Hait  began  to  eat  the 
biscuit.  "Well,"  old  Het  said,  happily,  "de  mule  burnt  de 
house  en  you  shot  de  mule.  Dat's  whut  I  calls  justice."  It 
was  getting  dark  fast  now,  and  before  her  was  still  the  three- 
mile  walk  to  the  poorhouse.  But  the  dark  would  last  a  long 
time  in  January,  and  the  poorhouse  too  would  not  move  at 
once.  She  sighed  with  weary  and  happy  relaxation.  "Gentle- 
men, hush!  Ain't  we  had  a  day!" 


That  Will  Be  Fine 


WE  COULD  HEAR  the  water  running  into  the  tub.  We  looked 
at  the  presents  scattered  over  the  bed  where  mamma  had 
wrapped  them  in  the  colored  paper,  with  our  names  on  them 
so  Grandpa  could  tell  who  they  belonged  to  easy  when  he 
would  take  them  off  the  tree.  There  was  a  present  for  every- 
body except  Grandpa  because  mamma  said  that  Grandpa  is 
too  old  to  get  presents  any  more. 

"This  one  is  yours,"  I  said. 

"Sho  now/'  Rosie  said.  "You  come  on  and  get  in  that 
tub  like  your  mamma  tell  you." 

"I  know  what's  in  it,"  I  said.  "I  could  tell  you  if  I  wanted 
to." 

Rosie  looked  at  her  present.  "I  reckon  I  kin  wait  twell 
hit  be  handed  to  me  at  the  right  time,"  she  said. 

"I'll  tell  you  what's  in  it  for  a  nickel,"  I  said. 

Rosie  looked  at  her  present.  "I  ain't  got  no  nickel,"  she 
said.  "But  I  will  have  Christmas  morning  when  Mr.  Rodney 
give  me  that  dime." 

"You'll  know  what's  in  it  anyway  then  and  you  won't 
pay  me,"  I  said.  "Go  and  ask  mamma  to  lend  you  a  nickel." 

Then  Rosie  grabbed  me  by  the  arm.  "You  come  on  and 
get  in  that  tub,"  she  said.  "You  and  money!  If  you  ain't 
rich  time  you  twenty-one,  hit  will  be  because  the  law  done 
abolished  money  or  done  abolished  you." 

265 


266  The  Village 

So  I  went  and  bathed  and  came  back,  with  the  presents  all 
scattered  out  across  mamma's  and  papa's  bed  and  you  could 
almost  smell  it  and  tomorrow  night  they  would  begin  to 
shoot  the  fireworks  and  then  you  could  hear  it  too.  It 
would  be  just  tonight  and  then  tomorrow  we  would  get 
on  the  train,  except  papa,  because  he  would  have  to  stay  at 
the  livery  stable  until  after  Christmas  Eve,  and  go  to 
Grandpa's,  and  then  tomorrow  night  and  then  it  would 
be  Christmas  and  Grandpa  would  take  the  presents  off  the 
tree  and  call  out  our  names,  and  the  one  from  me  to  Uncle 
Rodney  that  I  bought  with  my  own  dime  and  so  after  a 
while  Uncle  Rodney  would  prize  open  Grandpa's  desk 
and  take  a  dose  of  Grandpa's  tonic  and  maybe  he  would 
give  me  another  quarter  for  helping  him,  like  he  did  last 
Christmas,  instead  of  just  a  nickel,  like  he  would  do  last 
summer  while  he  was  visiting  mamma  and  us  and  we  were 
doing  business  with  Mrs.  Tucker  before  Uncle  Rodney 
went  home  and  began  to  work  for  the  Compress  Association, 
and  it  would  be  fine.  Or  maybe  even  a  half  a  dollar  and  it 
seemed  to  me  like  I  just  couldn't  wait. 

"Jesus,  I  can't  hardly  wait,"  I  said. 

"You  which?"  Rosie  hollered.  "Jesus?"  she  hollered. 
"Jesus?  You  let  your  mamma  hear  you  cussing  and  I  bound 
you'll  wait.  You  talk  to  me  about  a  nickel!  For  a  nickel 
I'd  tell  her  just  what  you  said." 

"If  you'll  pay  me  a  nickel  I'll  tell  her  myself,"  I  said. 

"Get  into  that  bed!"  Rosie  hollered.  "A  seven-year-old 
boy,  cussing!" 

"If  you  will  promise  not  to  tell  her,  I'll  tell  you  what's  in 
your  present  and  you  can  pay  me  the  nickel  Christmas  morn- 
ing," I  said. 

"Get  in  that  bed!"  Rosie  hollered.  "You  and  your  nickel! 
I  bound  if  I  thought  any  of  you  all  was  fixing  to  buy  even 
a  dime  present  for  your  grandpa,  I'd  put  in  a  nickel  of  hit 
myself." 


That  Will  Be  Fine  267 

"Grandpa  don't  want  presents,"  I  said.  "He's  too  old." 
"Hah,"  Rosie  said.  "Too  old,  is  he?  Suppose  everybody 
decided  you  was  too  young  to  have  nickels:  what  would  you 
think  about  that?  Hah?" 

So  Rosie  turned  out  the  light  and  went  out.  But  I 
could  still  see  the  presents  by  the  firelight:  the  ones  for  Uncle 
Rodney  and  Grandma  and  Aunt  Louisa  and  Aunt  Louisa's 
husband  Uncle  Fred,  and  Cousin  Louisa  and  Cousin  Fred 
and  the  baby  and  Grandpa's  cook  and  our  cook,  that  was 
Rosie,  and  maybe  somebody  ought  to  give  Grandpa  a  present 
only  maybe  it  ought  to  be  Aunt  Louisa  because  she  and 
Uncle  Fred  lived  with  Grandpa,  or  maybe  Uncle  Rodney 
ought  to  because  he  lived  with  Grandpa  too.  Uncle  Rodney 
always  gave  mamma  and  papa  a  present  but  maybe  it  would 
be  just  a  waste  of  his  time  and  Grandpa's  time  both  for 
Uncle  Rodney  to  give  Grandpa  a  present,  because  one  time 
I  asked  mamma  why  Grandpa  always  looked  at  the  present 
Uncle  Rodney  gave  her  and  papa  and  got  so  mad,  and  papa 
began  to  laugh  and  mamma  said  papa  ought  to  be  ashamed, 
that  it  wasn't  Uncle  Rodney's  fault  if  his  generosity  was 
longer  than  his  pocket  book,  and  papa  said  Yes,  it  certainly 
wasn't  Uncle  Rodney's  fault,  he  never  knew  a  man  to  try 
harder  to  get  money  than  Uncle  Rodney  did,  that  Uncle 
Rodney  had  tried  every  known  plan  to  get  it  except  work, 
and  that  if  mamma  would  just  think  back  about  two  years 
she  would  remember  one  time  when  Uncle  Rodney  could 
have  thanked  his  stars  that  there  was  one  man  in  the  con- 
nection whose  generosity,  or  whatever  mamma  wanted  to 
call  it,  was  at  least  five  hundred  dollars  shorter  than  his 
pocket  book,  and  mamma  said  she  defied  papa  to  say  that 
Uncle  Rodney  stole  the  money,  that  it  had  been  malicious 
persecution  and  papa  knew  it,  and  that  papa  and  most  other 
men  were  prejudiced  against  Uncle  Rodney,  why  she  didn't 
know,  and  that  if  papa  begrudged  having  lent  Uncle  Rodney 
the  five  hundred  dollars  when  the  family's  good  name  was 


268  The  Village 

at  stake  to  say  so  and  Grandpa  would  raise  it  somehow  and 
pay  papa  back,  and  then  she  began  to  cry  and  papa  said 
All  right,  all  right,  and  mamma  cried  and  said  how  Uncle 
Rodney  was  the  baby  and  that  must  be  why  papa  hated 
him  and  papa  said  All  right,  all  right;  for  God's  sake,  all 
right. 

Because  mamma  and  papa  didn't  know  that  Uncle  Rodney 
had  been  handling  his  business  all  the  time  he  was  visiting 
us  last  summer,  any  more  than  the  people  in  Mottstown 
knew  that  he  was  doing  business  last  Christmas  when  I 
worked  for  him  the  first  time  and  he  paid  me  the  quarter. 
Because  he  said  that  if  he  preferred  to  do  business  with 
ladies  instead  of  men  it  wasn't  anybody's  business  except  his, 
not  even  Mr.  Tucker's.  He  said  how  I  never  went  around 
telling  people  about  papa's  business  and  I  said  how  every- 
body knew  papa  was  in  the  livery-stable  business  and  so  I 
didn't  have  to  tell  them,  and  Uncle  Rodney  said  Well, 
that  was  what  half  of  the  nickel  was  for  and  did  I  want  to 
keep  on  making  the  nickels  or  did  I  want  him  to  hire  some- 
body else?  So  I  would  go  on  ahead  and  watch  through  Mr. 
Tucker's  fence  until  he  came  out  to  go  to  town  and  I  would 
go  along  behind  the  fence  to  the  corner  and  watch  until 
Mr.  Tucker  was  out  of  sight  and  then  I  would  put  my  hat 
on  top  of  the  fence  post  and  leave  it  there  until  I  saw  Mr. 
Tucker  coming  back.  Only  he  never  came  back  while  I 
was  there  because  Uncle  Rodney  would  always  be  through 
before  then,  and  he  would  come  up  and  we  would  walk 
back  home  and  he  would  tell  mamma  how  far  we  had 
walked  that  day  and  mamma  would  say  how  good  that  was 
for  Uncle  Rodney's  health.  So  he  just  paid  me  a  nickel  at 
home.  It  wasn't  as  much  as  the  quarter  when  he  was  in 
business  with  the  other  lady  in  Mottstown  Christmas,  but 
that  was  just  one  rime  and  he  visited  us  all  summer  and  so 
by  that  time  I  had  a  lot  more  than  a  quarter.  And  besides 


That  Will  Be  Fine  269 

the  other  time  was  Christmas  and  he  took  a  dose  of  Grandpa's 
tonic  before  he  paid  me  the  quarter  and  so  maybe  this  time 
it  might  be  even  a  half  a  dollar.  I  couldn't  hardly  wait. 

II 

BUT  IT  GOT  TO  BE  daylight  at  last  and  I  put  on  my  Sunday 
suit,  and  I  would  go  to  the  front  door  and  watch  for  the 
hack  and  then  I  would  go  to  the  kitchen  and  ask  Rosie  if  it 
wasn't  almost  time  and  she  would  tell  me  the  train  wasn't 
even  due  for  two  hours  yet.  Only  while  she  was  telling  me 
we  heard  the  hack,  and  so  I  thought  it  was  time  for  us  to 
go  and  get  on  the  train  and  it  would  be  fine,  and  then  we 
would  go  to  Grandpa's  and  then  it  would  be  tonight  and 
then  tomorrow  and  maybe  it  would  be  a  half  a  dollar  this 
cime  and  Jesus  it  would  be  fine.  Then  mamma  came  running 
out  without  even  her  hat  on  and  she  said  how  it  was  two 
hours  yet  and  she  wasn't  even  dressed  and  John  Paul  said 
Yessum  but  papa  sent  him  and  papa  said  for  John  Paul  to 
tell  mamma  that  Aunt  Louisa  was  here  and  for  mamma  to 
hurry.  So  we  put  the  basket  of  presents  into  the  hack  and 
I  rode  on  the  box  with  John  Paul  and  mamma  hollering 
from  inside  the  hack  about  Aunt  Louisa,  and  John  Paul  said 
that  Aunt  Louisa  had  come  in  a  hired  buggy  and  papa  took 
her  to  the  hotel  to  eat  breakfast  because  she  left  Mottstown 
before  daylight  even.  And  so  maybe  Aunt  Louisa  had  come 
to  Jefferson  to  help  mamma  and  papa  get  a  present  for 
Grandpa. 

"Because  we  have  one  for  everybody  else,"  I  said,  "I 
bought  one  for  Uncle  Rodney  with  my  own  money." 

Then  John  Paul  began  to  laugh  and  I  said  Why?  and  he 
said  it  was  at  the  notion  of  me  giving  Uncle  Rodney  any- 
thing that  he  would  want  to  use,  and  I  said  Why?  and 
John  Paul  said  because  I  was  shaped  like  a  man,  and  I  said 


2  yo  The  Village 

Why?  and  John  Paul  said  he  bet  papa  would  like  to  give 
Uncle  Rodney  a  present  without  even  waiting  for  Christmas, 
and  I  said  What?  and  John  Paul  said  A  job  of  work.  And  I 
told  John  Paul  how  Uncle  Rodney  had  been  working  all  the 
time  he  was  visiting  us  last  summer,  and  John  Paul  quit 
laughing  and  said  Sho,  he  reckoned  anything  a  man  kept 
at  all  the  time,  night  and  day  both,  he  would  call  it  work 
no  matter  how  much  fun  it  started  out  to  be,  and  I  said 
Anyway  Uncle  Rodney  works  now,  he  works  in  the  office 
of  the  Compress  Association,  and  John  Paul  laughed  good 
then  and  said  it  would  sholy  take  a  whole  association  to 
compress  Uncle  Rodney.  And  then  mamma  began  to  holler 
to  go  straight  to  the  hotel,  and  John  Paul  said  Nome,  papa 
said  to  come  straight  to  the  livery  stable  and  wait  for  him. 
And  so  we  went  to  the  hotel  and  Aunt  Louisa  and  papa 
came  out  and  papa  helped  Aunt  Louisa  into  the  hack  and 
Aunt  Louisa  began  to  cry  and  mamma  hollering  Louisa! 
Louisa!  What  is  it?  What  has  happened?  and  papa  saying 
Wait  now.  Wait.  Remember  the  nigger,  and  that  meant 
John  Paul,  and  so  it  must  have  been  a  present  for  Grandpa 
and  it  didn't  come. 

And  then  we  didn't  go  on  the  train  after  all.  We  went  to 
the  stable  and  they  already  had  the  light  road  hack  hitched 
up  and  waiting,  and  mamma  was  crying  now  and  saying 
how  papa  never  even  had  his  Sunday  clothes  and  papa 
cussing  now  and  saying  Damn  the  clothes;  if  we  didn't  get 
to  Uncle  Rodney  before  the  others  caught  him,  papa  would 
just  wear  the  clothes  Uncle  Rodney  had  on  now.  So  we  got 
into  the  road  hack  fast  and  papa  closed  the  curtains  and  then 
mamma  and  Aunt  Louisa  could  cry  all  right  and  papa  hol- 
lered to  John  Paul  to  go  home  and  tell  Rosie  to  pack  his 
Sunday  suit  and  take  her  to  the  train;  anyway  that  would  be 
fine  for  Rosie.  So  we  didn't  go  on  the  train  but  we  went 
fast,  with  papa  driving  and  saying  Didn't  anybody  know 


That  W ill  Ee  Fine  271 

where  he  was?  and  Aunt  Louisa  quit  crying  a  while  and 
said  how  Uncle  Rodney  didn't  come  to  supper  last  night, 
but  right  after  supper  he  came  in  and  how  Aunt  Louisa 
had  a  terrible  feeling  as  soon  as  she  heard  his  step  in  the 
hall  and  how  Uncle  Rodney  wouldn't  tell  her  until  they 
were  in  his  room  and  the  door  closed  and  then  he  said 
he  must  have  two  thousand  dollars  and  Aunt  Louisa  said 
where  in  the  world  could  she  get  two  thousand  dollars?  and 
Uncle  Rodney  said  Ask  Fred,  that  was  Aunt  Louisa's  hus- 
band, and  George,  that  was  papa;  tell  them  they  would 
have  to  dig  it  up,  and  Aunt  Louisa  said  she  had  that  terrible 
feeling  and  she  said  Rodney!  Rodney!  What — and  Uncle 
Rodney  begun  to  cuss  and  say  Dammit,  don't  start  sniveling 
and  crying  now,  and  Aunt  Louisa  said  Rodney,  what  have 
you  done  now?  and  then  they  both  heard  the  knocking  at 
the  door  and  how  Aunt  Louisa  looked  at  Uncle  Rodney  and 
she  knew  the  truth  before  she  even  laid  eyes  on  Mr.  Pruitt 
and  the  sheriff,  and  how  she  said  Don't  tell  pa!  Keep  it 
from  pa!  It  will  kill  him.  .  .  . 

"Who?"  papa  said.  "Mister  who?" 

"Mr.  Pruitt,"  Aunt  Louisa  said,  crying  again.  "The 
president  of  the  Compress  Association.  They  moved  to 
Mottstown  last  spring.  You  don't  know  him." 

So  she  went  down  to  the  door  and  it  was  Mr.  Pruitt  and 
the  sheriff.  And  how  Aunt  Louisa  begged  Mr.  Pruitt  for 
Grandpa's  sake  and  how  she  gave  Mr.  Pruitt  her  oath  that 
Uncle  Rodney  would  stay  right  there  in  the  house  until 
papa  could  get  there,  and  Mr.  Pruitt  said  how  he  hated  it 
to  happen  at  Christmas  too  and  so  for  Grandpa's  and  Aunt 
Louisa's  sake  he  would  give  them  until  the  day  after  Christ- 
mas if  Aunt  Louisa  would  promise  him  that  Uncle  Rodney 
would  not  try  to  leave  Mottstown.  And  how  Mr.  Pruitt 
showed  her  with  her  own  eyes  the  check  with  Grandpa's 
name  signed  to  it  and  how  even  Aunt  Louisa  could  see  that 


272  The  Village 

Grandpa's  name  had  been — and  then  mamma  said  Louisa! 
Louisa!  Remember  Georgie!  and  that  was  me,  and  papa 
cussed  too,  hollering  How  in  damnation  do  you  expect 
to  keep  it  from  him?  Ey  hiding  the  newspapers?  and  Aunt 
Louisa  cried  again  and  said  how  everybody  was  bound  to 
know  it,  that  she  didn't  expect  or  hope  that  any  of  us  could 
ever  hold  our  heads  up  again,  that  all  she  hoped  for  was  to 
keep  it  from  Grandpa  because  it  would  kill  him.  She  cried 
hard  then  and  papa  had  to  stop  at  a  branch  and  get  down 
and  soak  his  handkerchief  for  mamma  to  wipe  Aunt  Louisa's 
face  with  it  and  then  papa  took  the  bottle  of  tonic  out  of  the 
dash  pocket  and  put  a  few  drops  on  the  handkerchief,  and 
Aunt  Louisa  smelled  it  and  then  papa  took  a  dose  of  the 
tonic  out  of  the  bottle  and  mamma  said  George!  and  papa 
drank  some  more  of  the  tonic  and  then  made  like  he  was 
handing  the  bottle  back  for  mamma  and  Aunt  Louisa  to 
take  a  dose  too  and  said,  "I  don't  blame  you.  If  I  was  a 
woman  in  this  family  I'd  take  to  drink  too.  Now  let  me  get 
this  bond  business  straight." 

"It  was  those  road  bonds  of  ma's,"  Aunt  Louisa  said. 

We  were  going  fast  again  now  because  the  horses  had 
rested  while  papa  was  wetting  the  handkerchief  and  taking 
the  dose  of  tonic,  and  papa  was  saying  All  right,  what  about 
the  bonds?  when  all  of  a  sudden  he  jerked  around  in  the 
seat  and  said,  "Road  bonds?  Do  you  mean  he  took  that 
damn  screw  driver  and  prized  open  your  mother's  desk  too?" 

Then  mamma  said  George!  how  can  you?  only  Aunt 
Louisa  was  talking  now,  quick  now,  not  crying  now,  not 
yet,  and  papa  with  his  head  turned  over  his  shoulder  and 
saying  Did  Aunt  Louisa  mean  that  that  five  hundred  papa 
had  to  pay  out  two  years  ago  wasn't  all  of  it?  And  Aunt 
Louisa  said  it  was  twenty-five  hundred,  only  they  didn't 
v^ant  Grandpa  to  find  it  out,  and  so  Grandma  put  up  her 
road  bonds  for  security  on  the  note,  and  how  they  said  now 


That  Will  Be  Fine  273 

that  Uncle  Rodney  had  redeemed  Grandma's  note  and  the 
road  bonds  from  the  bank  with  some  of  the  Compress 
Association's  bonds  out  of  the  safe  in  the  Compress  Associa- 
tion office,  because  when  Mr.  Pruitt  found  the  Compress 
Association's  bonds  were  missing  he  looked  for  them  and 
found  them  in  the  bank  and  when  he  looked  in  the  Compress 
Association's  safe  all  he  found  was  the  check  for  two  thou- 
sand dollars  with  Grandpa's  name  signed  to  it,  and  how 
Mr.  Pruitt  hadn't  lived  in  Mottstown  but  a  year  but  even  he 
knew  that  Grandpa  never  signed  that  check  and  besides  he 
looked  in  the  bank  again  and  Grandpa  never  had  two 
thousand  dollars  in  it,  and  how  Mr.  Pruitt  said  how  he  would 
wait  until  the  day  after  Christmas  if  Aunt  Louisa  would 
give  him  her  sworn  oath  that  Uncle  Rodney  would  not  go 
away,  and  Aunt  Louisa  did  it  and  then  she  went  back  up- 
stairs to  plead  with  Uncle  Rodney  to  give  Mr.  Pruitt  the 
bonds  and  she  went  into  Uncle  Rodney's  room  where  she 
had  left  him,  and  the  window  was  open  and  Uncle  Rodney 
was  gone. 

"Damn  Rodney!"  papa  said.  "The  bonds!  You  mean,  no- 
body knows  where  the  bonds  are?" 

Now  we  were  going  fast  because  we  were  coming  down 
the  last  hill  and  into  the  valley  where  Mottstown  was.  Soon 
we  would  begin  to  smell  it  again;  it  would  be  just  today  and 
then  tonight  and  then  it  would  be  Christmas,  and  Aunt 
Louisa  sitting  there  with  her  face  white  like  a  whitewashed 
fence  that  has  been  rained  on  and  papa  said  Who  in  hell 
ever  gave  him  such  a  job  anyway,  and  Aunt  Louisa  said  Mr. 
Pruitt,  and  papa  said  how  even  if  Mr.  Pruitt  had  only  lived 
in  Mottstown  a  few  months,  and  then  Aunt  Louisa  began 
to  cry  without  even  putting  her  handkerchief  to  her  face 
this  time  and  mamma  looked  at  Aunt  Louisa  and  she  began 
to  cry  too  and  papa  took  out  the  whip  and  hit  the  team  a 
belt  with  it  even  if  they  were  going  fast  and  he  cussed. 


274  The  Village 

"Damnation  to  hell,"  papa  said.  "I  see.  Pruitt's  married." 

Then  we  could  see  it  too.  There  were  holly  wreaths  in 
the  windows  like  at  home  in  Jefferson,  and  I  said,  "They 
shoot  fireworks  in  Mottstown  too  like  they  do  in  Jefferson." 

Aunt  Louisa  and  mamma  were  crying  good  now,  and  now 
it  was  papa  saying  Here,  here;  remember  Georgie,  and  that 
was  me,  and  Aunt  Louisa  said,  "Yes,  yes!  Painted  ,common 
thing,  traipsing  up  and  down  the  streets  all  afternoon  alone 
in  a  buggy,  and  the  one  and  only  time  Mrs.  Church  called 
on  her,  and  that  was  because  of  Mr.  Pruitt's  position  alone, 
Mrs.  Church  found  her  without  corsets  on  and  Mrs.  Church 
told  me  she  smelled  liquor  on  her  breath." 

And  papa  saying  Here,  here,  and  Aunt  Louisa  crying 
good  and  saying  how  it  was  Mrs.  Pruitt  that  did  it  because 
Uncle  Rodney  was  young  and  easy  led  because  he  never 
had  had  opportunities  to  meet  a  nice  girl  and  marry  her,  and 
papa  was  driving  fast  toward  Grandpa's  house  and  he  said, 
"Marry?  Rodney  marry?  What  in  hell  pleasure  would  he 
get  out  of  slipping  out  of  his  own  house  and  waiting  until 
after  dark  and  slipping  around  to  the  back  and  climbing  up 
the  gutter  and  into  a  room  where  there  wasn't  anybody  in 
it  but  his  own  wife." 

And  so  mamma  and  Aunt  Louisa  were  crying  good  when 
we  got  to  Grandpa's. 

Ill 

AND  UNCLE  RODNEY  wasn't  there.  We  came  in,  and  Grandma 
said  how  Mandy,  that  was  Grandpa's  cook,  hadn't  come 
to  cook  breakfast  and  when  Grandma  sent  Emmeline,  that 
was  Aunt  Louisa's  baby's  nurse,  down  to  Mandy's  cabin 
in  the  back  yard,  the  door  was  locked  on  the  inside  but 
Mandy  wouldn't  answer  and  then  Grandma  went  down 
there  herself  and  Mandy  wouldn't  answer  and  so  Cousin 


That  Will  Be  Fine  275 

Fred  climbed  in  the  window  and  Mandy  was  gone  and  Uncle 
Fred  had  just  got  back  from  town  then  and  he  and  papa  both 
hollered,  "Locked?  on  the  inside?  and  nobody  in  it?" 

And  then  Uncle  Fred  told  papa  to  go  in  and  keep  Grandpa 
entertained  and  he  would  go  and  then  Aunt  Louisa  grabbed 
papa  and  Uncle  Fred  both  and  said  she  would  keep  Grandpa 
quiet  and  for  both  of  them  to  go  and  find  him,  find  him, 
and  papa  said  if  only  the  fool  hasn't  tried  to  sell  them  to  some- 
body, and  Uncle  Fred  said  Good  God,  man,  don't  you 
know  that  check  was  dated  ten  days  ago?  And  so  we  went 
in  where  Grandpa  was  reared  back  in  his  chair  and  saying 
how  he  hadn't  expected  papa  until  tomorrow  but  by  God 
he  was  glad  to  see  somebody  at  last  because  he  waked  up 
this  morning  and  his  cook  had  quit  and  Louisa  had  chased 
off  somewhere  before  daylight  and  now  he  couldn't  even 
find  Uncle  Rodney  to  go  down  and  bring  his  mail  and  a 
cigar  or  two  back,  and  so  thank  God  Christmas  never  came 
but  once  a  year  and  so  be  damned  if  he  wouldn't  be  glad 
when  it  was  over,  only  he  was  laughing  now  because  when 
he  said  that  about  Christmas  before  Christmas  he  always 
laughed,  it  wasn't  until  after  Christmas  that  he  didn't  laugh 
when  he  said  that  about  Christmas.  Then  Aunt  Louisa  got 
Grandpa's  keys  out  of  his  pocket  herself  and  opened  the 
desk  where  Uncle  Rodney  would  prize  it  open  with  a  screw 
driver,  and  took  out  Grandpa's  tonic  and  then  mamma  said 
for  me  to  go  and  find  Cousin  Fred  and  Cousin  Louisa. 

So  Uncle  Rodney  wasn't  there.  Only  at  first  I  thought 
maybe  it  wouldn't  be  a  quarter  even,  it  wouldn't  be  nothing 
this  time,  so  at  first  all  I  had  to  think  about  was  that  anyway 
it  would  be  Christmas  and  that  would  be  something  anyway. 
Because  I  went  on  around  the  house,  and  so  after  a  while 
papa  and  Uncle  Fred  came  out,  and  I  could  see  them  through 
the  bushes  knocking  at  Mandy's  door  and  calling,  "Rodney, 
Rodney,"  like  that.  Then  I  had  to  get  back  in  the  bushes 


276  The  Village 

because  Uncle  Fred  had  to  pass  right  by  me  to  go  to  the 
woodshed  to  get  the  axe  to  open  Mandy's  door.  But  they 
couldn't  fool  Uncle  Rodney.  If  Mr.  Tucker  couldn't  fool 
Uncle  Rodney  in  Mr.  Tucker's  own  house,  Uncle  Fred  and 
papa  ought  to  known  they  couldn't  fool  him  right  in  his 
own  papa's  back  yard.  So  I  didn't  even  need  to  hear  them. 
I  just  waited  until  after  a  while  Uncle  Fred  came  back  out 
the  broken  door  and  came  to  the  woodshed  and  took  the  axe 
and  pulled  the  lock  and  hasp  and  steeple  off  the  woodhouse 
door  and  went  back  and  then  papa  came  out  of  Mandy's 
house  and  they  nailed  the  woodhouse  lock  onto  Mandy's 
door  and  locked  it  and  they  went  around  behind  Mandy's 
house,  and  I  could  hear  Uncle  Fred  nailing  the  windows  up. 
Then  they  went  back  to  the  house.  But  it  didn't  matter  if 
Mandy  was  in  the  house  too  and  couldn't  get  out,  because 
the  train  came  from  Jefferson  with  Rosie  and  papa's  Sunday 
clothes  on  it  and  so  Rosie  was  there  to  cook  for  Grandpa 
and  us  and  so  that  was  all  right  too. 

But  they  couldn't  fool  Uncle  Rodney.  I  could  have  told 
them  that.  I  could  have  told  them  that  sometimes  Uncle 
Rodney  even  wanted  to  wait  until  after  dark  to  even  begin 
to  do  business.  And  so  it  was  all  right  even  if  it  was  late  in 
the  afternoon  before  I  could  get  away  from  Cousin  Fred 
and  Cousin  Louisa.  It  was  late;  soon  they  would  begin  to 
shoot  the  fireworks  downtown,  and  then  we  would  be  hear- 
ing it  too,  so  I  could  just  see  his  face  a  little  between  the 
slats  where  papa  and  Uncle  Fred  had  nailed  up  the  back 
window;  I  could  see  his  face  where  he  hadn't  shaved,  and  he 
was  asking  me  why  in  hell  it  took  me  so  long  because  he 
had  heard  the  Jefferson  train  come  before  dinner,  before 
eleven  o'clock,  and  laughing  about  how  papa  and  Uncle 
Fred  had  nailed  him  up  in  the  house  to  keep  him  when  that 
was  exactly  what  he  wanted,  and  that  I  would  have  to  slip 
out  right  after  supper  somehow  and  did  I  reckon  I  could 


That  Will  Be  Fine  277 

manage  it?  And  I  said  how  last  Christmas  it  had  been  a 
quarter,  but  I  didn't  have  to  slip  out  of  the  house  that  time, 
and  he  laughed,  saying  Quarter?  Quarter?  did  I  ever  see  ten 
quarters  all  at  once?  and  I  never  did,  and  he  said  for  me  to 
be  there  with  the  screw  driver  right  after  supper  and  I 
would  see  ten  quarters,  and  to  remember  that  even  God 
didn't  know  where  he  is  and  so  for  me  to  get  the  hell  away 
and  stay  away  until  I  came  back  after  dark  with  the  screw 
driver. 

And  they  couldn't  fool  me  either.  Because  I  had  been 
watching  the  man  all  afternoon,  even  when  he  thought  I 
was  just  playing  and  maybe  because  I  was  from  Jefferson 
instead  of  Mottstown  and  so  I  wouldn't  know  who  he  was. 
But  I  did,  because  once  when  he  was  walking  past  the  back 
fence  and  he  stopped  and  lit  his  cigar  again  and  I  saw  the 
badge  under  his  coat  when  he  struck  the  match  and  so  I 
knew  he  was  like  Mr.  Watts  at  Jefferson  that  catches  the 
niggers.  So  I  was  playing  by  the  fence  and  I  could  hear  him 
stopping  and  looking  at  me  and  I  played  and  he  said, 
"Howdy,  son.  Santy  Glaus  coming  to  see  you  tomorrow?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said. 

"You're  Miss  Sarah's  boy,  from  up  at  Jefferson,  ain't  you?" 
he  said. 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said. 

"Come  to- spend  Christmas  with  your  grandpa,  eh?"  he 
said.  "I  wonder  if  your  Uncle  Rodney's  at  home  this  after- 
noon." 

"No,  sir,"  I  said. 

"Well,  well,  that's  too  bad,"  he  said.  "I  wanted  to  see  him 
a  minute.  He's  downtown,  I  reckon?" 

"No,  sir,"  I  said. 

"Well,  well,"  he  said.  "You  mean  he's  gone  away  on  a 
visit,  maybe?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said. 


278  The  Village 

"Well,  well,"  he  said.  "That's  too  bad.  I  wanted  to  see  him 
on  a  little  business.  But  I  reckon  it  can  wait."  Then  he  looked 
at  me  and  then  he  said,  "You're  sure  he's  out  of  town, 
then?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said. 

"Well,  that  was  all  I  wanted  to  know,"  he  said.  "If  you 
happen  to  mention  this  to  your  Aunt  Louisa  or  your  Uncle 
Fred  you  can  tell  them  that  was  all  I  wanted  to  know." 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said.  So  he  went  away.  And  he  didn't  pass 
the  house  any  more.  I  watched  for  him,  but  he  didn't  come 
back.  So  he  couldn't  fool  me  either. 


IV 

THEN  IT  BEGAN  to  get  dark  and  they  started  to  shoot  the  fire- 
works downtown.  I  could  hear  them,  and  soon  we  would 
be  seeing  the  Roman  candles  and  skyrockets  and  I  would 
have  the  ten  quarters  then  and  I  thought  about  the  basket 
full  of  presents  and  I  thought  how  maybe  I  could  go  on 
downtown  when  I  got  through  working  for  Uncle  Rodney 
and  buy  a  present  for  Grandpa  with  a  dime  out  of  the  ten 
quarters  and  give  it  to  him  tomorrow  and  maybe,  because 
nobody  else  had  given  him  a  present,  Grandpa  might  give 
me  a  quarter  too  instead  of  the  dime  tomorrow,  and  that 
would  be  twenty-one  quarters,  except  for  the  dime,  and  that 
would  be  fine  sure  enough.  But  I  didn't  have  time  to  do  that. 
We  ate  supper,  and  Rosie  had  to  cook  that  too,  and  mamma 
and  Aunt  Louisa  with  powder  on  their  faces  where  they 
had  been  crying,  and  Grandpa;  it  was  papa  helping  him 
take  a  dose  of  tonic  every  now  and  then  all  afternoon  while 
Uncle  Fred  was  downtown,  and  Uncle  Fred  came  back  and 
papa  came  out  in  the  hall  and  Uncle  Fred  said  he  had 
looked  everywhere,  in  the  bank  and  in  the  Compress,  and 
how  Mr.  Pruitt  had  helped  him  but  they  couldn't  find  a  sign 
either  of  them  or  of  the  money,  because  Uncle  Fred  war 


That  Will  Be  Fine  279 

afraid  because  one  night  last  week  Uncle  Rodney  hired 
a  rig  and  went  somewhere  and  Uncle  Fred  found  out 
Uncle  Rodney  drove  over  to  the  main  line  at  Kingston  and 
caught  the  fast  train  to  Memphis,  and  papa  said  Damnation, 
and  Uncle  Fred  said  By  God  we  will  go  down  there  after 
supper  and  sweat  it  out  of  him,  because  at  least  we  have 
got  him.  I  told  Pruitt  that  and  he  said  that  if  we  hold  to 
him,  he  will  hold  off  and  give  us  a  chance. 

So  Uncle  Fred  and  papa  and  Grandpa  came  in  to  supper 
together,  with  Grandpa  between  them  saying  Christmas 
don't  come  but  once  a  year,  thank  God,  so  hooray  for 
it,  and  papa  and  Uncle  Fred  saying  Now  you  are  all 
right,  pa;  straight  ahead  now,  pa,  and  Grandpa  would  go 
straight  ahead  awhile  and  then  begin  to  holler  Where  in  hell 
is  that  damn  boy?  and  that  meant  Uncle  Rodney,  and  that 
Grandpa  was  a  good  mind  to  go  downtown  himself  and 
haul  Uncle  Rodney  out  of  that  damn  pool  hall  and  make 
him  come  home  and  see  his  kinfolks.  And  so  we  ate  supper 
and  mamma  said  she  would  take  the  children  upstairs  and 
Aunt  Louisa  said  No,  Emmeline  could  put  us  to  bed,  and 
so  we  went  up  the  back  stairs,  and  Emmeline  said  how  she 
had  done  already  had  to  cook  breakfast  extra  today  and  if 
folks  thought  she  was  going  to  waste  all  her  Christmas  doing 
extra  work  they  never  had  the  sense  she  give  them  credit  for 
and  that  this  looked  like  to  her  it  was  a  good  house  to  be 
away  from  nohow,  and  so  we  went  into  the  room  and  then 
after  a  while  I  went  back  down  the  back  stairs  and  I  re- 
membered where  to  find  the  screw  driver  too.  Then  I 
could  hear  the  firecrackers  plain  from  downtown,  and  the 
moon  was  shining  now  but  I  could  still  see  the  Roman 
candles  and  the  skyrockets  running  up  the  sky.  Then 
Uncle  Rodney's  hand  came  out  of  the  crack  in  the  shutter 
and  took  the  screw  driver.  I  couldn't  see  his  face  now  and 
it  wasn't  laughing  exactly,  it  didn't  sound  exactly  like 
laughing,  it  was  just  the  way  he  breathed  behind  the  shutter. 


i8o  The  Village 

Because  they  couldn't  fool  him.  "All  right,"  he  said.  "Now 
that's  ten  quarters.  But  wait.  Are  you  sure  nobody  knows 
where  I  am?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said.  "I  waited  by  the  fence  until  he  come 
and  asked  me." 

"Which  one?"  Uncle  Rodney  said. 

"The  one  that  wears  the  badge,"  I  said. 

Then  Uncle  Rodney  cussed.  But  it  wasn't  mad  cussing. 
It  sounded  just  like  it  sounded  when  he  was  laughing  ex- 
cept the  words. 

"He  said  if  you  were  out  of  town  on  a  visit,  and  I  said 
Yes  sir,"  I  said. 

"Good,"  Uncle  Rodney  said.  "By  God,  some  day  you  will 
be  as  good  a  business  man  as  I  am.  And  I  won't  make  you 
a  liar  much  longer,  either.  So  now  you  have  got  ten  quarters, 
haven't  you?" 

"No,"  I  said.  "I  haven't  got  them  yet." 

Then  he  cussed  again,  and  I  said,  "I  will  hold  my  cap  up 
and  you  can  drop  them  in  it  and  they  won't  spill  then." 

Then  he  cussed  hard,  only  it  wasn't  loud.  "Only  I'm 
not  going  to  give  you  ten  quarters,"  he  said,  and  I  begun 
to  say  You  said — and  Uncle  Rodney  said,  "Because  I  am 
going  to  give  you  twenty." 

And  I  said  Yes,  sir,  and  he  told  me  how  to  find  the  right 
house,  and  what  to  do  when  I  found  it.  Only  there  wasn't 
any  paper  to  carry  this  time  because  Uncle  Rodney  said  how 
this  was  a  twenty-quarter  job,  and  so  it  was  too  important 
to  put  on  paper  and  besides  I  wouldn't  need  a  paper  because 
I  would  not  know  them  anyhow,  and  his  voice  coming  hiss- 
ing down  from  behind  the  shutter  where  I  couldn't  see  him 
and  still  sounding  like  when  he  cussed  while  he  was  saying 
how  papa  and  Uncle  Fred  had  done  him  a  favor  by  nailing 
up  the  door  and  window  and  they  didn't  even  have  sense 
enough  to  know  it. 


That  Will  Be  Fine  281 

"Start  at  the  corner  of  the  house  and  count  three  windows. 
Then  throw  the  handful  of  gravel  against  the  window. 
Then  when  the  window  opens — never  mind  who  it  will  be, 
you  won't  know  anyway — just  say  who  you  are  and  then 
say  'He  will  be  at  the  corner  with  the  buggy  in  ten  minutes. 
Bring  the  jewelry.'  Now  you  say  it,"  Uncle  Rodney  said. 

"He  will  be  at  the  corner  with  the  buggy  in  ten  minutes. 
Bring  the  jewelry,"  I  said. 

"Say  'Bring  all  the  jewelry,'  "  Uncle  Rodney  said. 

"Bring  all  the  jewelry,"  I  said. 

"Good,"  Uncle  Rodney  said.  Then  he  said,  "Well?  What 
are  you  waiting  on?" 

"For  the  twenty  quarters,"  I  said. 

Uncle  Rodney  cussed  again.  "Do  you  expect  me  to  pay 
you  before  you  have  done  the  work?"  he  said. 

"You  said  about  a  buggy,"  I  said.  "Maybe  you  will  forget 
to  pay  me  before  you  go  and  you  might  not  get  back  until 
after  we  go  back  home.  And  besides,  that  day  last  summer 
when  we  couldn't  do  any  business  with  Mrs.  Tucker  be- 
cause she  was  sick  and  you  wouldn't  pay  me  the  nickel  be- 
cause you  said  it  wasn't  your  fault  Mrs.  Tucker  was  sick." 

Then  Uncle  Rodney  cussed  hard  and  quiet  behind  the 
crack  and  then  he  said,  "Listen.  I  haven't  got  the  twenty 
quarters  now.  I  haven't  even  got  one  quarter  now.  And  the 
only  way  I  can  get  any  is  to  get  out  of  here  and  finish  this 
business.  And  I  can't  finish  this  business  tonight  unless  you  do 
your  work.  See?  I'll  be  right  behind  you.  I'll  be  waiting  right 
there  at  the  corner  in  the  buggy  when  you  come  back.  Now, 
go  on.  Hurry." 


V 

So  I  WENT  ON  ACROSS  THE  YARD,  only  the  moon  was  bright 
now  and  I  walked  behind  the  fence  until  I  got  to  the  street* 


282  The  Village 

And  I  could  hear  the  firecrackers  and  I  could  see  the  Roman 
candles  and  skyrockets  sliding  up  the  sky,  but  the  fireworks 
were  all  downtown,  and  so  all  I  could  see  along  the  street  was 
the  candles  and  wreaths  in  the  windows.  So  I  came  to  the 
lane,  went  up  the  lane  to  the  stable,  and  I  could  hear  the 
horse  in  the  stable,  but  I  didn't  know  whether  it  was  the  right 
stable  or  not;  but  pretty  soon  Uncle  Rodney  kind  of  jumped 
around  the  corner  of  the  stable  and  said  Here  you  are,  and 
he  showed  me  where  to  stand  and  listen  toward  the  house  and 
he  went  back  into  the  stable.  But  I  couldn't  hear  anything 
but  Uncle  Rodney  harnessing  the  horse,  and  then  he  whistled 
and  I  went  back  and  he  had  the  horse  already  hitched  to  the 
buggy  and  I  said  Whose  horse  and  buggy  is  this;  it's  a  lot 
skinnier  than  Grandpa's  horse?  And  Uncle  Rodney  said  It's 
my  horse  now,  only  damn  this  moonlight  to  hell.  Then  I 
went  back  down  the  lane  to  the  street  and  there  wasn't  any- 
body coming  so  I  waved  my  arm  in  the  moonlight,  and  the 
buggy  came  up  and  I  got  in  and  we  went  fast.  The  side  cur- 
tains were  up  and  so  I  couldn't  see  the  skyrockets  and  Roman 
candles  from  town,  but  I  could  hear  the  firecrackers  and  I 
thought  maybe  we  were  going  through  town  and  maybe 
Uncle  Rodney  would  stop  and  give  me  some  of  the  twenty 
quarters  and  I  could  buy  Grandpa  a  present  for  tomorrow, 
but  we  didn't;  Uncle  Rodney  just  raised  the  side  curtain 
without  stopping  and  then  I  could  see  the  house,  the  two 
magnolia  trees,  but  we  didn't  stop  until  we  came  to  the 
corner. 

"Now,"  Uncle  Rodney  said,  "when  the  window  opens, 
say  'He  will  be  at  the  corner  in  ten  minutes.  Bring  all  the 
jewelry.'  Never  mind  who  it  will  be.  You  don't  want  to 
know  who  it  is.  You  want  to  even  forget  what  house  it  is. 
See?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  I  said.  "And  then  you  will  pay  me  the " 

"Yes!"  he  said,  cussing.  "Yes!  Get  out  of  here  quick!" 


That  Will  Be  Fine  283 

So  I  got  out  and  the  buggy  went  on  and  I  went  back  up 
the  street.  And  the  house  was  dark  all  right  except  for  one 
light,  so  it  was  the  right  one,  besides  the  two  trees.  So  I  went 
across  the  yard  and  counted  the  three  windows  and  I  was 
just  about  to  throw  the  gravel  when  a  lady  ran  out  from  be- 
hind a  bush  and  grabbed  me.  She  kept  on  trying  to  say  some- 
thing, only  I  couldn't  tell  what  it  was,  and  besides  she  never 
had  time  to  say  very  much  anyhow  because  a  man  ran  out 
from  behind  another  bush  and  grabbed  us  both.  Only  he 
grabbed  her  by  the  mouth,  because  I  could  tell  that  from  the 
kind  of  slobbering  noise  she  made  while  she  was  fighting  to 
get  loose. 

"Well,  boy?"  he  said.  "What  is  it?  Are  you  the  one?" 

"I  work  for  Uncle  Rodney,"  I  said. 

"Then  you're  the  one,"  he  said.  Now  the  lady  was  fighting 
2nd  slobbering  sure  enough,  but  he  held  her  by  the  mouth. 
"All  right.  What  is  it?" 

Only  I  didn't  know  Uncle  Rodney  ever  did  business  with 
men.  But  maybe  after  he  began  to  work  in  the  Compress  As- 
sociation he  had  to.  And  then  he  had  told  me  I  would  not 
know  them  anyway,  so  maybe  that  was  what  he  meant. 

"He  says  to  be  at  the  corner  in  ten  minutes,"  I  said.  "And 
to  bring  all  the  jewelry.  He  said  for  me  to  say  that  twice. 
Bring  all  the  jewelry." 

The  lady  was  slobbering  and  fighting  worse  than  ever 
now,  so  maybe  he  had  to  turn  me  loose  so  he  could  hold  her 
with  both  hands. 

"Bring  all  the  jewelry,"  he  said,  holding  the  lady  with  both 
hands  now.  "That's  a  good  idea.  That's  fine.  I  don't  blame 
him  for  telling  you  to  say  that  twice.  All  right.  Now  you  go 
back  to  the  corner  and  wait  and  when  he  comes,  tell  him  this: 
"She  says  to  come  and  help  carry  it.'  Say  that  to  him  twice, 
too.  Understand?" 

"Then  I'll  get  my  twenty  quarters,"  I  said. 


284  The  Village 

"Twenty  quarters,  hah?"  the  man  said,  holding  the  lady. 
"That's  what  you  are  to  get,  is  it?  That's  not  enough.  You 
tell  him  this,  too:  'She  says  to  give  you  a  piece  of  the  jew- 
elry.' Understand?" 

"I  just  want  my  twenty  quarters,"  I  said. 

Then  he  and  the  lady  went  back  behind  the  bushes  again 
and  I  went  on,  too,  back  toward  the  corner,  and  I  could  see 
the  Roman  candles  and  skyrockets  again  from  toward  town 
and  I  could  hear  the  firecrackers,  and  then  the  buggy  came 
back  and  Uncle  Rodney  was  hissing  again  behind  the  curtain 
like  when  he  was  behind  the  slats  on  Mandy's  window. 

"Well?  "he  said. 

"She  said  for  you  to  come  and  help  carry  it,"  I  said. 

"What?"  Uncle  Rodney  said.  "She  said  he's  not  there?'" 

"No,  sir.  She  said  for  you  to  come  and  help  carry  it.  For 
me  to  say  that  twice."  Then  I  said,  "Where's  my  twenty 
quarters?"  because  he  had  already  jumped  out  of  the  buggy 
and  jumped  across  the  walk  into  the  shadow  of  some  bushes. 
So  I  went  into  the  bushes  too  and  said,  "You  said  you  would 
give " 

"All  right;  all  right!"  Uncle  Rodney  said.  He  was  kind  of 
squatting  along  the  bushes;  I  could  hear  him  breathing.  "I'll 
give  them  to  you  tomorrow.  I'll  give  you  thirty  quarters 
tomorrow.  Now  you  get  to  hell  on  home.  And  if  they  have 
been  down  to  Mandy's  house,  you  don't  know  anything. 
Run,  now.  Hurry." 

"I'd  rather  have  the  twenty  quarters  tonight,"  I  said. 

He  was  squatting  fast  along  in  the  shadow  of  the  bushes, 
and  I  was  right  behind  him,  because  when  he  whirled  around 
he  almost  touched  me,  but  I  jumped  back  out  of  the  bushes 
in  time  and  he  stood  there  cussing  at  me  and  then  he  stooped 
down  and  I  saw  it  was  a  stick  in  his  hand  and  I  turned  and 
ran.  Then  he  went  on,  squatting  along  in  the  shadow,  and 
then  I  went  back  to  the  buggy,  because  the  day  after  Christ- 


That  Will  Be  Fine  285 

mas  we  would  go  back  to  Jefferson,  and  so  if  Uncle  Rodney 
didn't  get  back  before  then  I  would  not  see  him  again  until 
next  summer  and  then  maybe  he  would  be  in  business  with 
another  lady  and  my  twenty  quarters  would  be  like  my 
nickel  that  time  when  Mrs.  Tucker  was  sick.  So  I  waited  by 
the  buggy  and  I  could  watch  the  skyrockets  and  the  Roman 
candles  and  I  could  hear  the  firecrackers  from  town,  only  it 
was  late  now  and  so  maybe  all  the  stores  would  be  closed  and 
so  I  couldn't  buy  Grandpa  a  present,  even  when  Uncle  Rod- 
ney came  back  and  gave  me  my  twenty  quarters.  So  I  was 
listening  to  the  firecrackers  and  thinking  about  how  maybe  I 
could  tell  Grandpa  that  I  had  wanted  to  buy  him  a  present 
and  so  maybe  he  might  give  me  fifteen  cents  instead  of  a  dime 
anyway,  when  all  of  a  sudden  they  started  shooting  fire- 
crackers back  at  the  house  where  Uncle  Rodney  had  gone. 
Only  they  just  shot  five  of  them  fast,  and  when  they  didn't 
shoot  any  more  I  thought  that  maybe  in  a  minute  they  would 
shoot  the  skyrockets  and  Roman  candles  too.  But  they  didn't. 
They  just  shot  the  five  firecrackers  right  quick  and  then 
stopped,  and  I  stood  by  the  buggy  and  then  folks  began  to 
come  out  of  the  houses  and  holler  at  one  another  and  then  I 
began  to  see  men  running  toward  the  house  where  Uncle 
Rodney  had  gone,  and  then  a  man  came  out  of  the  yard  fast 
and  went  up  the  street  toward  Grandpa's  and  I  thought  at 
first  it  was  Uncle  Rodney  and  that  he  had  forgotten  the 
buggy,  until  I  saw  that  it  wasn't. 

But  Uncle  Rodney  never  came  back  and  so  I  went  on 
toward  the  yard  to  where  the  men  were,  because  I  could  still 
watch  the  buggy  too  and  see  Uncle  Rodney  if  he  came  back 
out  of  the  bushes,  and  I  came  to  the  yard  and  I  saw  six  men 
carrying  something  long  and  then  two  other  men  ran  up  and 
stopped  me  and  one  of  them  said  Hell-fire,  it's  one  of  those 
kids,  the  one  from  Jefferson.  And  I  could  see  then  that  what 
the  men  were  carrying  was  a  window  blind  with  something 


286  The  Village 

wrapped  in  a  quilt  on  it  and  so  I  thought  at  first  that  they  had 
come  to  help  Uncle  Rodney  carry  the  jewelry,  only  I  didn't 
see  Uncle  Rodney  anywhere,  and  then  one  of  the  men  said, 
"Who?  One  of  the  kids?  Hell-fire,  somebody  take  him  on 
home." 

So  the  man  picked  me  up,  but  I  said  I  had  to  wait  on  Uncle 
Rodney,  and  the  man  said  that  Uncle  Rodney  would  be  all 
right,  and  I  said  But  I  wanted  to  wait  for  him  here,  and  then 
one  of  the  men  behind  us  said  Damn  it,  get  him  on  out  of 
here,  and  we  went  on.  I  was  riding  on  the  man's  back  and 
then  I  could  look  back  and  see  the  six  men  in  the  moonlight 
carrying  the  blind  with  the  bundle  on  it,  and  I  said  Did  it 
belong  to  Uncle  Rodney?  and  the  man  said  No,  if  it  be- 
longed to  anybody  now  it  belonged  to  Grandpa.  And  so 
then  I  knew  what  it  was. 

"It's  a  side  of  beef,"  I  said.  "You  are  going  to  take  it  to 
Grandpa."  Then  the  other  man  made  a  funny  sound  and  the 
one  I  was  riding  on  said  Yes,  you  might  call  it  a  side  of  beef, 
and  I  said,  "It's  a  Christmas  present  for  Grandpa.  Who  is  it 
going  to  be  from?  Is  it  from  Uncle  Rodney?" 

"No,"  the  man  said.  "Not  from  him.  Call  it  from  the  men 
of  Mottstown.  From  all  the  husbands  in  Mottstown." 


VI 

THEN  WE  CAME  in  sight  of  Grandpa's  house.  And  now  the 
lights  were  all  on,  even  on  the  porch,  and  I  could  see  folks 
in  the  hall,  I  could  see  ladies  with  shawls  over  their  heads,, 
and  some  more  of  them  going  up  the  walk  toward  the  porch, 
and  then  I  could  hear  somebody  in  the  house  that  sounded 
like  singing  and  then  papa  came  out  of  the  house  and  came 
down  the  walk  to  the  gate  and  we  came  up  and  the  man  put 
me  down  and  I  saw  Rosie  waiting  at  the  gate  too.  Only  it 
didn't  sound  like  singing  now  because  there  wasn't  any  music 


That  Will  Be  Fine  287 

with  it,  and  so  maybe  it  was  Aunt  Louisa  again  and  so  maybe 
she  didn't  like  Christmas  now  any  better  than  Grandpa  said 
he  didn't  like  it. 

"It's  a  present  for  Grandpa,"  I  said. 

"Yes,"  papa  said.  "You  go  on  with  Rosie  and  go  to  bed. 
Mamma  will  be  there  soon.  But  you  be  a  good  boy  until  she 
comes.  You  mind  Rosie.  All  right,  Rosie.  Take  him  on. 
Hurry." 

"You  don't  need  to  tell  me  that,"  Rosie  said.  She  took  my 
hand.  "Come  on." 

Only  we  didn't  go  back  into  the  yard,  because  Rosie  came 
out  the  gate  and  we  went  up  the  street.  And  then  I  thought 
maybe  we  were  going  around  the  back  to  dodge  the  people 
and  we  didn't  do  that,  either.  We  just  went  on  up  the  street, 
and  I  said,  "Where  are  we  going?" 

And  Rosie  said,  "We  gonter  sleep  at  a  lady's  house  name 
Mrs.  Jordon." 

So  we  went  on.  I  didn't  say  anything.  Because  papa  had 
forgotten  to  say  anything  about  my  slipping  out  of  the  house 
yet  and  so  maybe  if  I  went  on  to  bed  and  stayed  quiet  he 
would  forget  about  it  until  tomorrow  too.  And  besides,  the 
main  thing  was  to  get  a  holt  of  Uncle  Rodney  and  get  my 
twenty  quarters  before  we  went  back  home,  and  so  maybe 
that  would  be  all  right  tomorrow  too.  So  we  went  on  and 
Rosie  said  Yonder's  the  house,  and  we  went  in  the  yard  and 
then  all  of  a  sudden  Rosie  saw  the  possum.  It  was  in  a  persim- 
mon tree  in  Mrs.  Jordon's  yard  and  I  could  see  it  against  the 
moonlight  too,  and  I  hollered,  "Run!  Run  and  get  Mrs.  Jor- 
don's ladder!" 

And  Rosie  said,  "Ladder  my  foot!  You  going  to  bed!" 

But  I  didn't  wait.  I  began  to  run  toward  the  house,  with 
Rosie  running  behind  me  and  hollering  You,  Georgie!  You 
come  back  here!  But  I  didn't  stop.  We  could  get  the  ladder 
and  get  the  possum  and  give  it  to  Grandpa  along  with  the 


288  The  Village 

side  of  meat  and  it  wouldn't  cost  even  a  dime  and  then  maybe 
Grandpa  might  even  give  me  a  quarter  too,  and  then  when  I 
got  the  twenty  quarters  from  Uncle  Rodney  I  would  have 
twenty-one  quarters  and  that  will  be  fine. 


That  Evening  Sun 


i 

MONDAY  is  NO  DIFFERENT  from  any  other  weekday  in  Jeffer- 
son now.  The  streets  are  paved  now,  and  the  telephone  and 
electric  companies  are  cutting  down  more  and  more  of  the 
shade  trees — the  water  oaks,  the  maples  and  locusts  and  elms 
— to  make  room  for  iron  poles  bearing  clusters  of  bloated  and 
ghostly  and  bloodless  grapes,  and  we  have  a  city  laundry 
which  makes  the  rounds  on  Monday  morning,  gathering  the 
bundles  of  clothes  into  bright-colored,  specially-made  motor 
cars:  the  soiled  wearing  of  a  whole  week  now  flees  appari- 
tionlike  behind  alert  and  irritable  electric  horns,  with  a  long 
diminishing  noise  of  rubber  and  asphalt  like  tearing  silk,  and 
even  the  Negro  women  who  still  take  in  white  people's 
washing  after  the  old  custom,  fetch  and  deliver  it  in  auf.o- 
mobiles. 

But  fifteen  years  ago,  on  Monday  morning  the  quiet, 
dusty,  shady  streets  would  be  full  of  Negro  women  with, 
balanced  on  their  steady,  turbaned  heads,  bundles  of  clothes 
tied  up  in  sheets,  almost  as  large  as  cotton  bales,  carried  so 
without  touch  of  hand  between  the  kitchen  door  of  the  white 
house  and  the  jlackened  washpot  beside  a  cabin  door  in 
Negro  Hollow. 

Nancy  would  set  her  bundle  on  the  top  of  her  head,  then 
upon  the  bundle  in  turn  she  would  set  the  black  straw  sailor 

289 


290  The  Village 

hat  which  she  wore  winter  and  summer.  She  was  tall,  with  a 
high,  sad  face  sunken  a  little  where  her  teeth  were  missing. 
Sometimes  we  would  go  a  part  of  the  way  down  the  lane  and 
across  the  pasture  with  her,  to  watch  the  balanced  bundle 
and  the  hat  that  never  bobbed  nor  wavered,  even  when  she 
walked  down  into  the  ditch  and  up  the  other  side  and  stooped 
through  the  fence.  She  would  go  down  on  her  hands  and 
knees  and  crawl  through  the  gap,  her  head  rigid,  uptilted, 
the  bundle  steady  as  a  rock  or  a  balloon,  and  rise  to  her  feet 
again  and  go  on. 

Sometimes  the  husbands  of  the  washing  women  would 
fetch  and  deliver  the  clothes,  but  Jesus  never  did  that  for 
Nancy,  even  before  father  told  him  to  stay  away  from  our 
house,  even  when  Dilsey  was  sick  and  Nancy  would  come  to 
cook  for  us. 

And  then  about  half  the  time  we'd  have  to  go  down  the 
lane  to  Nancy's  cabin  and  tell  her  to  come  on  and  cook 
breakfast.  We  would  stop  at  the  ditch,  because  father  told 
us  to  not  have  anything  to  do  with  Jesus — he  was  a  short 
black  man,  with  a  razor  scar  down  his  face — and  we  would 
throw  rocks  at  Nancy's  house  until  she  came  to  the  door, 
leaning  her  head  around  it  without  any  clothes  on. 

"What  yawl  mean,  chunking  my  house?"  Nancy  said. 
"What  you  little  devils  mean?" 

"Father  says  for  you  to  come  on  and  get  breakfast,"  Caddy 
said.  "Father  says  it's  over  a  half  an  hour  now,  and  you've 
got  to  come  this  minute." 

"I  aint  studying  no  breakfast,"  Nancy  said.  "I  going  tc 
get  my  sleep  out." 

"I  bet  you're  drunk,"  Jason  said.  "Father  says  you're 
drunk.  Are  you  drunk,  Nancy?" 

"Who  says  I  is?"  Nancy  said.  "I  got  to  get  my  sleep  out 
1  dint  studying  no  breakfast." 


That  Evening  Sun  291 

So  after  a  while  we  quit  chunking  the  cabin  and  went  back 
home.  When  she  finally  came,  it  was  too  late  for  me  to  go  to 
school.  So  we  thought  it  was  whisky  until  that  day  they  ar- 
rested her  again  and  they  were  taking  her  to  jail  and  they 
passed  Mr  Stovall.  He  was  the  cashier  in  the  bank  and  a  dea- 
con in  the  Baptist  church,  and  Nancy  began  to  say: 

"When  you  going  to  pay  me,  white  man?  When  you  going 
to  pay  me,  white  man?  It's  been  three  times  now  since  you 
paid  me  a  cent — "  Mr  Stovall  knocked  her  down,  but  she 
kept  on  saying,  "When  you  going  to  pay  me,  white  man?  It's 
been  three  times  now  since — "  until  Mr  Stovall  kicked  her 
in  the  mouth  with  his  heel  and  the  marshal  caught  Mr  Stovall 
back,  and  Nancy  lying  in  the  street,  laughing.  She  turned 
her  head  and  spat  out  some  blood  and  teeth  and  said,  "It's 
oeen  three  times  now  since  he  paid  me  a  cent." 

That  was  how  she  lost  her  teeth,  and  all  that  day  they  told 
about  Nancy  and  Mr  Stovall,  and  all  that  night  the  ones  that 
passed  the  jail  could  hear  Nancy  singing  and  yelling.  They 
could  see  her  hands  holding  to  the  window  bars,  and  a  lot  of 
them  stopped  along  the  fence,  listening  to  her  and  to  the 
jailer  trying  to  make  her  stop.  She  didn't  shut  up  until  almost 
daylight,  when  the  jailer  began  to  hear  a  bumping  and  scrap- 
ing upstairs  and  he  went  up  there  and  found  Nancy  hanging 
from  the  window  bar.  He  said  that  it  was  cocaine  and  not 
whisky,  because  no  nigger  would  try  to  commit  suicide  un- 
less he  was  full  of  cocaine,  because  a  nigger  full  of  cocaine 
wasn't  a  nigger  any  longer. 

The  jailer  cut  her  down  and  revived  her;  then  he  beat  her, 
whipped  her.  She  had  hung  herself  with  her  dress.  She  had 
fixed  it  all  right,  but  when  they  arrested  her  she  didn't  have 
on  anything  except  a  dress  and  so  she  didn't  have  anything 
to  tie  her  hands  with  and  she  couldn't  make  her  hands  let  go 
of  the  window  ledge.  So  the  jailer  heard  the  noise  and  ran  up 
there  and  found  Nancy  hanging  from  the  window,  stark 


292  The  Village 

naked,  her  belly  already  swelling  out  a  little,  like  a  little 
balloon. 

When  Dilsey  was  sick  in  her  cabin  and  Nancy  was  cook- 
ing for  us,  we  could  see  her  apron  swelling  out;  that  was 
before  father  told  Jesus  to  stay  away  from  the  house.  Jesus 
was  in  the  kitchen,  sitting  behind  the  stove,  with  his  razor 
scar  on  his  black  face  like  a  piece  of  dirty  string.  He  said  it 
was  a  watermelon  that  Nancy  had  under  her  dress. 

"It  never  come  off  of  your  vine,  though,"  Nancy  said. 

"Off  of  what  vine?"  Caddy  said. 

"I  can  cut  down  the  vine  it  did  come  off  of,"  Jesus  said. 

"What  makes  you  want  to  talk  like  that  before  these  chil- 
len?"  Nancy  said.  "Whyn't  you  go  on  to  work?  You  done  et. 
You  want  Mr  Jason  to  catch  you  hanging  around  his  kitchen, 
talking  that  way  before  these  chillen?" 

"Talking  what  way?"  Caddy  said.  "What  vine?" 

"I  cant  hang  around  white  man's  kitchen,"  Jesus  said.  "But 
white  man  can  hang  around  mine.  White  man  can  come  in 
my  house,  but  I  cant  stop  him.  When  white  man  want  to 
come  in  my  house,  I  aint  got  no  house.  I  cant  stop  him,  but  he 
cant  kick  me  outen  it.  He  cant  do  that." 

Dilsey  was  still  sick  in  her  cabin.  Father  told  Jesus  to  stay 
off  our  place.  Dilsey  was  still  sick.  It  was  a  long  time.  We 
were  in  the  library  after  supper. 

"Isn't  Nancy  through  in  the  kitchen  yet?"  mother  said. 
"It  seems  to  me  that  she  has  had  plenty  of  time  to  have 
finished  the  dishes." 

"Let  Quentin  go  and  see,"  father  said.  "Go  and  see  if 
Nancy  is  through,  Quentin.  Tell  her  she  can  go  on  home." 

I  went  to  the  kitchen.  Nancy  was  through.  The  dishes 
were  put  away  and  the  fire  was  out.  Nancy  was  sitting  in  a 
chair,  close  to  the  cold  stove.  She  looked  at  me. 

"Mother  wants  to  know  if  you  are  through,"  I  said. 

"Yes,"  Nancy  said.  She  looked  at  me,  "I  done  finished." 
She  looked  at  me. 


Thai  Evening  Sun  293 

"What  is  it?"  I  said.  "What  is  it?" 

"I  aint  nothing  but  a  nigger,"  Nancy  said.  "It  aint  none  of 
my  fault." 

She  looked  at  me,  sitting  in  the  chair  before  the  cold  stove, 
the  sailor  hat  on  her  head.  I  went  back  to  the  library.  It  was 
the  cold  stove  and  all,  when  you  think  of  a  kitchen  being 
warm  and  busy  and  cheerful.  And  with  a  cold  stove  and  the 
dishes  all  put  away,  and  nobody  wanting  to  eat  at  that  hour. 

"Is  she  through?"  mother  said. 

"Yessum,"  I  said. 

"What  is  she  doing?"  mother  said. 

"She's  not  doing  anything.  She's  through." 

"I'll  go  and  see,"  father  said. 

"Maybe  she's  waiting  for  Jesus  to  come  and  take  her 
home,"  Caddy  said. 

"Jesus  is  gone,"  I  said.  Nrncy  told  us  how  one  morning 
she  woke  up  and  Jesus  was  gone. 

"He  quit  me,"  Nancy  said.  "Done  gone  to  Memphis,  I 
reckon.  Dodging  them  city  p<?-lice  for  a  while,  I  reckon." 

"And  a  good  riddance,"  father  said.  "I  hope  he  stays 
there." 

"Nancy's  scaired  of  the  dark,"  Jason  said. 

"So  are  you,"  Caddy  said. 

"I'm  not,"  Jason  said. 

"Scairy  cat,"  Caddy  said. 

"I'm  not,"  Jason  said. 

"You,  Candace!"  mother  said.  Father  came  back. 

"I  am  going  to  walk  down  the  lane  with  Nancy,"  he  said. 
"She  says  that  Jesus  is  back." 

"Has  she  seen  him?"  mother  said. 

"No.  Some  Negro  sent  her  word  that  he  was  back  in  town. 
I  wont  be  long." 

"You'll  leave  me  alone,  to  take  Nancy  home?"  mother  said. 
"Is  her  safety  more  precious  to  you  than  mine?" 

"I  wont  be  long,"  father  said. 


294  The  Village 

"You'll  leave  these  children  unprotected,  with  that  Negro 
about?" 

"I'm  going  too,"  Caddy  said.  "Let  me  go,  Father." 

"What  would  he  do  with  them,  if  he  were  unfortunate 
enough  to  have  them?"  father  said. 

"I  want  to  go,  too,"  Jason  said. 

"Jason!"  mother  said.  She  was  speaking  to  father.  You 
could  tell  that  by  the  way  she  said  the  name.  Like  she  be- 
lieved that  all  day  father  had  been  trying  to  think  of  doing 
the  thing  she  wouldn't  like  the  most,  and  that  she  knew  all 
the  time  that  after  a  while  he  would  think  of  it.  I  stayed  quiet, 
because  father  and  I  both  knew  that  mother  would  want 
him  to  make  me  stay  with  her  if  she  just  thought  of  it  in 
time.  So  father  didn't  look  at  me.  I  was  the  oldest.  I  was  nine 
and  Caddy  was  seven  and  Jason  was  five. 

"Nonsense,"  father  said.  "We  wont  be  long." 

Nancy  had  her  hat  on.  We  came  to  the  lane.  "Jesus  always 
been  good  to  me,"  Nancy  said.  "Whenever  he  had  two  dol- 
lars, one  of  them  was  mine."  We  walked  in  the  lane.  "If  I 
can  just  get  through  the  lane,"  Nancy  said,  "I  be  all  right 
then." 

The  lane  was  always  dark.  "This  is  where  Jason  got  scared 
on  Hallowe'en,"  Caddy  said. 

"I  didn't,"  Jason  said. 

"Cant  Aunt  Rachel  do  anything  with  him?"  father  said. 
Aunt  Rachel  was  old.  She  lived  in  a  cabin  beyond  Nancy's, 
by  herself.  She  had  white  hair  and  she  smoked  a  pipe  in  the 
door,  all  day  long;  she  didn't  work  any  more.  They  said  she 
was  Jesus'  mother.  Sometimes  she  said  she  was  and  some- 
times she  said  she  wasn't  any  kin  to  Jesus. 

"Yes,  you  did,"  Caddy  said.  "You  were  scairder  than 
Frony.  You  were  scairder  than  T.P  even.  Scairder  than 
niggers." 

"Cant  nobody  do  nothing  with  him,"  Nancy  said.  "He  say 


That  Evening  Sun  295 

I  done  woke  up  the  devil  in  him  and  aint  but  one  thing  going 
to  lay  it  down  again." 

"Well,  he's  gone  now,"  father  said.  "There's  nothing  for 
you  to  be  afraid  of  now.  And  if  you'd  just  let  white  men 
alone." 

"Let  what  white  men  alone?"  Caddy  said.  "How  let  them 
alone?" 

"He  aint  gone  nowhere,"  Nancy  said.  "I  can  feel  him.  I 
can  feel  him  now,  in  this  lane.  He  hearing  us  talk,  every 
word,  hid  somewhere,  waiting.  I  aint  seen  him,  and  I  aint 
going  to  see  him  again  but  once  more,  with  that  razor  in  his 
mouth.  That  razor  on  that  string  down  his  back,  inside  his 
shirt.  And  then  I  aint  going  to  be  even  surprised." 

"I  wasn't  scaired,"  Jason  said. 

"If  you'd  behave  yourself,  you'd  have  kept  out  of  this," 
father  said.  "But  it's  all  right  now.  He's  probably  in  St.  Louis 
now.  Probably  got  another  wife  by  now  and  forgot  all  about 
you." 

"If  he  has,  I  better  not  find  out  about  it,"  Nancy  said.  "I'd 
stand  there  right  over  them,  and  every  time  he  wropped  her, 
I'd  cut  that  arm  off.  I'd  cut  his  head  off  and  I'd  slit  her  belly 
and  I'd  shove—" 

"Hush,"  father  said. 

"Slit  whose  belly,  Nancy?"  Caddy  said. 

"I  wasn't  scaired,"  Jason  said.  "I'd  walk  right  down  this 
lane  by  myself." 

"Yah,"  Caddy  said.  "You  wouldn't  dare  to  put  your  foot 
down  in  it  if  we  were  not  here  too." 


II 

DILSEY  WAS  STILL  SICK,  so  we  took  Nancy  home  every  night 
until  mother  said,  "How  much  longer  is  this  going  on?  I  to 


296  The  Village 

be  left  alone  in  this  big  house  while  you  take  home  a  fright- 
ened Negro?" 

We  fixed  a  pallet  in  the  kitchen  for  Nancy.  One  night  we 
waked  up,  hearing  the  sound.  It  was  not  singing  and  it  waj> 
not  crying,  coming  up  the  dark  stairs.  There  was  a  light  in 
mother's  room  and  we  heard  father  going  down  the  hall, 
down  the  back  stairs,  and  Caddy  and  I  went  into  the  hall. 
The  floor  was  cold.  Our  toes  curled  away  from  it  while  we 
listened  to  the  sound.  It  was  like  singing  and  it  wasn't  like 
singing,  like  the  sounds  that  Negroes  make. 

Then  it  stopped  and  we  heard  father  going  down  the  back 
stairs,  and  we  went  to  the  head  of  the  stairs.  Then  the  sound 
began  again,  in  the  stairway,  not  loud,  and  we  could  see 
Nancy's  eyes  halfway  up  the  stairs,  against  the  wall  They 
looked  like  cat's  eyes  do,  like  a  big  cat  against  the  wall, 
watching  us.  When  we  came  down  the  steps  to  where  she 
was,  she  quit  making  the  sound  again,  and  we  stood  there 
until  father  came  back  up  from  the  kitchen,  with  his  pistol  in 
his  hand.  He  went  back  down  with  Nancy  and  they  came 
back  with  Nancy's  pallet. 

We  spread  the  pallet  in  our  room.  After  the  light  in 
mother's  room  went  off,  we  could  see  Nancy's  eyes  again. 
"Nancy,"  Caddy  whispered,  "are  you  asleep,  Nancy?" 

Nancy  whispered  something.  It  was  oh  or  no,  I  dont  know 
which.  Like  nobody  had  made  it,  like  it  came  from  nowhere 
and  went  nowhere,  until  it  was  like  Nancy  was  not  there  at 
all;  that  I  had  looked  so  hard  at  her  eyes  on  the  stairs  that 
they  had  got  printed  on  my  eyeballs,  like  the  sun  does  when 
you  have  closed  your  eyes  and  there  is  no  sun.  "Jesus," 
Nancy  whispered.  "Jesus." 

"Was  it  Jesus?"  Caddy  said.  "Did  he  try  to  come  into  the 
kitchen?" 

"Jesus,"  Nancy  said.  Like  this:  Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus,  until 
the  sound  went  out,  like  a  match  or  a  candle  does. 


That  Evening  Sun  297 

"It's  the  other  Jesus  she  means,"  I  said. 

"Can  you  see  us,  Nancy?"  Caddy  whispered.  "Can  you 
see  our  eyes  too?" 

"I  aint  nothing  but  a  nigger,"  Nancy  said.  "God  knows. 
God  knows." 

"What  did  you  see  down  there  in  the  kitchen?"  Caddy 
whispered.  "What  tried  to  get  in?" 

"God  knows,"  Nancy  said.  We  could  see  her  eyes.  "God 
knows." 

Dilsey  got  well.  She  cooked  dinner.  "You'd  better  stay  in 
bed  a  day  or  two  longer,"  father  said. 

"What  for?"  Dilsey  said.  "If  I  had  been  a  day  later,  this 
place  would  be  to  rack  and  ruin.  Get  on  out  of  here  now. 
and  let  me  get  my  kitchen  straight  again." 

Dilsey  cooked  supper  too.  And  that  night,  just  before 
dark,  Nancy  came  into  the  kitchen. 

"How  do  you  know  he's  back?"  Dilsey  said.  "You  aint 
seen  him." 

"Jesus  is  a  nigger,"  Jason  said. 

"I  can  feel  him,"  Nancy  said.  "I  can  feel  him  laying  yonder 
in  the  ditch." 

"Tonight?"  Dilsey  said.  "Is  he  there  tonight?" 

"Dilsey's  a  nigger  too,"  Jason  said. 

"You  try  to  eat  something,"  Dilsey  said. 

"I  dont  want  nothing,"  Nancy  said. 

"I  aint  a  nigger,"  Jason  said. 

"Drink  some  coffee,"  Dilsey  said.  She  poured  a  cup  of 
coffee  for  Nancy.  "Do  you  know  he's  out  there  tonight? 
How  come  you  know  it's  tonight?" 

"I  know,"  Nancy  said.  "He's  there,  waiting.  I  know.  I 
done  lived  with  him  too  long.  I  know  what  he  is  fixing  to  do 
fore  he  know  it  himself." 

"Drink  some  coffee,"  Dilsey  said.  Nancy  held  the  cup  to 
her  mouth  and  blew  into  the  cup.  Her  mouth  pursed  out 


298  The  Village 

like  a  spreading  adder's,  like  a  rubber  mouth,  like  she  had 

blown  all  the  color  out  of  her  lips  with  blowing  the  coffee. 

"I  aint  a  nigger,"  Jason  said.  "Are  you  a  nigger,  Nancy?" 

"I  hellborn,  child,"  Nancy  said.  "I  wont  be  nothing  soon. 

I  going  back  where  I  come  from  soon." 

Ill 

SHE  BEGAN  TO  DRINK  the  coffee.  While  she  was  drinking,  hold- 
ing the  cup  in  both  hands,  she  began  to  make  the  sound  again. 
She  made  the  sound  into  the  cup  and  the  coffee  sploshed  out 
onto  her  hands  and  her  dress.  Her  eyes  looked  at  us  and  she 
sat  there,  her  elbows  on  her  knees,  holding  the  cup  in  both 
hands,  looking  at  us  across  the  wet  cup,  making  the  sound. 
"Look  at  Nancy,"  Jason  said.  "Nancy  cant  cook  for  us  now. 
Dilsey's  got  well  now." 

"You  hush  up,"  Dilsey  said.  Nancy  held  the  cup  in  both 
hands,  looking  at  us,  making  the  sound,  like  there  were  two 
of  them:  one  looking  at  us  and  the  other  making  the  sound. 
"Whyn't  you  let  Mr  Jason  telefoam  the  marshal?"  Dilsey 
said.  Nancy  stopped  then,  holding  the  cup  in  her  long  brown 
hands.  She  tried  to  drink  some  coffee  again,  but  it  sploshed 
out  of  the  cup,  onto  her  hands  and  her  dress,  and  she  put  the 
cup  down.  Jason  watched  her. 

"I  cant  swallow  it,"  Nancy  said.  "I  swallows  but  it  wont 
go  down  me." 

"You  go  down  to  the  cabin,"  Dilsey  said.  "Frony  will  fix 
you  a  pallet  and  I'll  be  there  soon." 

"Wont  no  nigger  stop  him,"  Nancy  said. 

"I  aint  a  nigger,"  Jason  said.  "Am  I,  Dilsey?" 

"I  reckon  not,"  Dilsey  said.  She  looked  at  Nancy.  "I  dont 
reckon  so.  What  you  going  to  do,  then?" 

Nancy  looked  at  us.  Her  eyes  went  fast,  like  she  was  afraid 


That  Evening  Sun  299 

there  wasn't  time  to  look,  without  hardly  moving  at  all.  She 
looked  at  us,  at  all  three  of  us  at  one  time.  "You  member  that 
night  I  stayed  in  yawls'  room?"  she  said.  She  told  about  how 
we  waked  up  early  the  next  morning,  and  played.  We  had 
to  play  quiet,  on  her  pallet,  until  father  woke  up  and  it  was 
time  to  get  breakfast.  "Go  and  ask  your  maw  to  let  me  stay 
here  tonight,"  Nancy  said.  "I  wont  need  no  pallet.  We  can 
play  some  more." 

Caddy  asked  mother.  Jason  went  too.  "I  cant  have 
Negroes  sleeping  in  the  bedrooms,"  mother  said.  Jason  cried. 
He  cried  until  mother  said  he  couldn't  have  any  dessert  for 
three  days  if  he  didn't  stop.  Then  Jason  said  he  would  stop 
if  Dilsey  would  make  a  chocolate  cake.  Father  was  there. 

"Why  dont  you  do  something  about  it?"  mother  said. 
"What  do  we  have  officers  for?" 

"Why  is  Nancy  afraid  of  Jesus?"  Caddy  said.  "Are  you 
afraid  of  father,  mother?" 

"What  could  the  officers  do?"  father  said.  "If  Nancy 
hasn't  seen  him,  how  could  the  officers  find  him?" 

"Then  why  is  she  afraid?"  mother  said. 

"She  says  he  is  there.  She  says  she  knows  he  is  there 
tonight." 

"Yet  we  pay  taxes,"  mother  said.  "I  must  wait  here  alone 
in  this  big  house  while  you  take  a  Negro  woman  home." 

"You  know  that  I  am  not  lying  outside  with  a  razor," 
father  said. 

"I'll  stop  if  Dilsey  will  make  a  chocolate  cake,"  Jason 
said.  Mother  told  us  to  go  out  and  father  said  he  didn't 
know  if  Jason  would  get  a  chocolate  cake  or  not,  but  he 
knew  what  Jason  was  going  to  get  in  about  a  minute.  We 
went  back  to  the  kitchen  and  told  Nancy. 

"Father  said  for  you  to  go  home  and  lock  the  door,  and 
you'll  be  all  right,"  Caddy  said.  "All  right  from  what, 
Nancy?  Is  Jesus  mad  at  you?"  Nancy  was  holding  the  coffee 


300  The  Village 

cup  in  her  hands  again,  her  elbows  on  her  knees  and  her 
hands  holding  the  cup  between  her  knees.  She  was  looking 
into  the  cup.  "What  have  you  done  that  made  Jesus  mad?" 
Caddy  said.  Nancy  let  the  cup  go.  It  didn't  break  on  the 
floor,  but  the  coffee  spilled  out,  and  Nancy  sat  there  with 
her  hands  still  making  the  shape  of  the  cup.  She  began  to 
make  the  sound  again,  not  loud.  Not  singing  and  not  unsing- 
ing.  We  watched  her. 

"Here,"  Dilsey  said.  "You  quit  that,  now.  You  get  aholt 
of  yourself.  You  wait  here.  I  going  to  get  Versh  to  vvalk 
home  with  you."  Dilsey  went  out. 

We  looked  at  Nancy.  Her  shoulders  kept  shaking,  but 
she  quit  making  the  sound.  We  watched  her.  "What's 
Jesus  going  to  do  to  you?"  Caddy  said.  "He  went  away," 

Nancy  looked  at  us.  "We  had  fun  that  night  I  stayed 
in  yawls'  room,  didn't  we?" 

"I  didn't,"  Jason  said.  "I  didn't  have  any  fun." 

"You  were  asleep  in  mother's  room,"  Caddy  said.  "You 
were  not  there." 

"Let's  go  down  to  my  house  and  have  some  more  fun," 
Nancy  said. 

"Mother  wont  let  us,"  I  said.  "It's  too  late  now." 

"Dont  bother  her,"  Nancy  said.  "We  can  tell  her  in  the 
morning.  She  wont  mind." 

"She  wouldn't  let  us,"  I  said. 

"Dont  ask  her  now,"  Nancy  said.  "Dont  bother  her  now." 

"She  didn't  say  we  couldn't  go,"  Caddy  said. 

"We  didn't  ask,"  I  said. 

"If  you  go,  I'll  tell,"  Jason  said. 

"We'll  have  fun,"  Nancy  said.  "They  won't  mind,  just  to 
my  house.  I  been  working  for  yawl  a  long  time.  They  won't 
mind." 

"I'm  not  afraid  to  go,"  Caddy  said.  "Jason  is  the  one  that's 
afraid.  He'll  tell." 


That  Evening  Sun  301 

"I'm  not,"  Jason  said. 

"Yes,  you  are,"  Caddy  said.  "You'll  tell." 

"I  won't  tell,"  Jason  said.  "I'm  not  afraid." 

"Jason  ain't  afraid  to  go  with  me,"  Nancy  said.  "Is  you, 
Jason?" 

"Jason  is  going  to  tell,"  Caddy  said.  The  lane  was  dark. 
We  passed  the  pasture  gate.  "I  bet  if  something  was  to  jump 
out  from  behind  that  gate,  Jason  would  holler." 

"I  wouldn't,"  Jason  said.  We  walked  down  the  lane. 
Nancy  was  talking  loud. 

"What  are  you  talking  so  loud  for,  Nancy?"  Caddy  said. 

"Who;  me?"  Nancy  said.  "Listen  at  Quentin  and  Caddy 
and  Jason  saying  I'm  talking  loud." 

"You  talk  like  there  was  five  of  us  here,"  Caddy  said.  "You 
talk  like  father  was  here  too." 

"Who;  me  talking  loud,  Mr  Jason?"  Nancy  said. 

"Nancy  called  Jason  'Mister,'  "  Caddy  said. 

"Listen  how  Caddy  and  Quentin  and  Jason  talk,"  Nancy 
said. 

"We're  not  talking  loud,"  Caddy  said.  "You're  the  one 
that's  talking  like  father — " 

"Hush,"  Nancy  said;  "hush,  Mr  Jason." 

"Nancy  called  Jason  'Mister'  aguh — " 

"Hush,"  Nancy  said.  She  was  talking  loud  when  WQ 
crossed  the  ditch  and  stooped  through  the  fence  where  she 
used  to  stoop  through  with  the  clothes  on  her  head.  Then  we 
came  to  her  house.  We  were  going  fast  then.  She  opened  the 
door.  The  smell  of  the  house  was  like  the  lamp  and  the  smell 
of  Nancy  was  like  the  wick,  like  they  were  waiting  for  one 
another  to  begin  to  smell.  She  lit  the  lamp  and  closed  the 
door  and  put  the  bar  up.  Then  she  quit  talking  loud,  looking 
at  us. 

"What're  we  going  to  do? "  Caddy  said. 


302  The  Village 

"What  do  yawl  want  to  do?"  Nancy  said. 

"You  said  we  would  have  some  fun,"  Caddy  said. 

There  was  something  about  Nancy's  house;  something  you 
could  smell  besides  Nancy  and  the  house.  Jason  smelled  it, 
even.  "I  don't  want  to  stay  here,"  he  said.  "I  want  to  go 
home." 

"Go  home,  then,"  Caddy  said. 

"I  don't  want  to  go  by  myself,"  Jason  said. 

"We're  going  to  have  some  fun,"  Nancy  said. 

"How?"  Caddy  said. 

Nancy  stood  by  the  door.  She  was  looking  at  us,  only  it 
was  like  she  had  emptied  her  eyes,  like  she  had  quit  using 
them.  "What  do  you  want  to  do?"  she  said. 

"Tell  us  a  story,"  Caddy  said.  "Can  you  tell  a  story?" 

"Yes,"  Nancy  said. 

"Tell  it,"  Caddy  said.  We  looked  at  Nancy.  "You  don't 
know  any  stories." 

"Yes,"  Nancy  said.  "Yes,  I  do." 

She  came  and  sat  in  a  chair  before  the  hearth.  There  was  a 
little  fire  there.  Nancy  built  it  up,  when  it  was  already  hot 
inside.  She  built  a  good  blaze.  She  told  a  story.  She  talked 
like  her  eyes  looked,  like  her  eyes  watching  us  and  her  voice 
talking  to  us  did  not  belong  to  her.  Like  she  was  living  some- 
where else,  waiting  somewhere  else.  She  was  outside  the 
cabin.  Her  voice  was  inside  and  the  shape  of  her,  the  Nancy 
that  could  stoop  under  a  barbed  wire  fence  with  a  bundle  of 
clothes  balanced  on  her  head  as  though  without  weight,  like 
a  balloon,  was  there.  But  that  was  all.  "And  so  this  here 
queen  come  walking  up  to  the  ditch,  where  that  bad  man  was 
hiding.  She  was  walking  up  to  the  ditch,  and  she  say,  'If  I  can 
just  get  past  this  here  ditch,'  was  what  she  say  .  .  ." 

"What  ditch?"  Caddy  said.  "A  ditch  like  that  one  out 
there?  Why  did  a  queen  want  to  go  into  a  ditch?" 

"To  get  to  her  house,"  Nancy  said.  She  looked  at  us.  "She 


That  Evening  Sun  303 

had  to  cross  the  ditch  to  get  into  her  house  quick  and  bar 
the  door." 

"Why  did  she  want  to  go  home  and  bar  the  door?"  Caddy 
said. 


IV 

NANCY  LOOKED  at  us.  She  quit  talking.  She  looked  at  us. 
Jason's  legs  stuck  straight  out  of  his  pants  where  he  sat  on 
Nancy's  lap.  "I  don't  think  that's  a  good  story,"  he  said.  "I 
want  to  go  home." 

"Maybe  we  had  better,"  Caddy  said.  She  got  up  from  the 
floor.  "I  bet  they  are  looking  for  us  right  now."  She  went 
toward  the  door. 

"No,"  Nancy  said.  "Don't  open  it."  She  got  up  quick  and 
passed  Caddy.  She  didn't  touch  the  door,  the  wooden  bar. 

"Why  not?"  Caddy  said. 

"Come  back  to  the  lamp,"  Nancy  said.  "We'll  have  fun. 
You  don't  have  to  go." 

"We  ought  to  go,"  Caddy  said.  "Unless  we  have  a  lot  of 
fun."  She  and  Nancy  came  back  to  the  fire,  the  lamp. 

"I  want  to  go  home,"  Jason  said.  "I'm  going  to  tell." 

"I  know  another  story,"  Nancy  said.  She  stood  close  to 
the  lamp.  She  looked  at  Caddy,  like  when  your  eyes  look  up 
at  a  stick  balanced  on  your  nose.  She  had  to  look  down  to 
see  Caddy,  but  her  eyes  looked  like  that,  like  when  you  are 
balancing  a  stick. 

"I  won't  listen  to  it,"  Jason  said.  "I'll  bang  on  the  floor." 

"It's  a  good  one,"  Nancy  said.  "It's  better  than  the  other 
one." 

"What's  it  about?"  Caddy  said.  Nancy  was  standing  by 
the  lamp.  Her  hand  was  on  the  lamp,  against  the  light,  long 
and  brown. 

"Your  hand  is  on  that  hot  crlobe."  Caddv  said.  "Don't  it 
feel  hot  to  your  hand?" 


304  The  Village 

Nancy  looked  at  her  hand  on  the  lamp  chimney.  She  took 
her  hand  away,  slow.  She  stood  there,  looking  at  Caddy, 
wringing  her  long  hand  as  though  it  were  tied  to  her  wrist 
with  a  string. 

"Let's  do  something  else,"  Caddy  said. 

"I  want  to  go  home,"  Jason  said. 

"I  got  some  popcorn,"  Nancy  said.  She  looked  at  Caddy 
and  then  at  Jason  and  then  at  me  and  then  at  Caddy  again. 
"I  got  some  popcorn." 

"I  don't  like  popcorn,"  Jason  said.  "I'd  rather  have  candy." 

Nancy  looked  at  Jason.  "You  can  hold  the  popper."  She 
was  still  wringing  her  hand;  it  was  long  and  limp  and  brown. 

"All  right,"  Jason  said.  "I'll  stay  a  while  if  I  can  do  that. 
Caddy  can't  hold  it.  I'll  want  to  go  home  again  if  Caddy 
holds  the  popper." 

Nancy  built  up  the  fire.  "Look  at  Nancy  putting  her 
hands  in  the  fire,"  Caddy  said.  "What's  the  matter  with  you, 
Nancy?" 

"I  got  popcorn,"  Nancy  said.  "I  got  some."  She  took  the 
popper  from  under  the  bed.  It  was  broken.  Jason  began  to 
cry. 

"Now  we  can't  have  any  popcorn,"  he  said. 

"We  ought  to  go  home,  anyway,"  Caddy  said.  "Come  on, 
Quentin." 

"Wait,"  Nancy  said;  "wait.  I  can  fix  it.  Don't  you  want 
to  help  me  fix  it?" 

"I  don't  think  I  want  any,"  Caddy  said.  "It's  too  late  now." 

"You  help  me,  Jason,"  Nancy  said.  "Don't  you  want  to 
help  me?" 

"No,"  Jason  said.  "I  want  to  go  home." 

"Hush,"  Nancy  said;  "hush.  Watch.  Watch  me.  I  can  fix 
it  so  Jason  can  hold  it  and  pop  the  corn."  She  got  a  piece  of 
wire  and  fixed  the  popper. 


That  Evening  Sun  305 

"It  won't  hold  good,"  Caddy  said. 

"Yes,  it  will,"  Nancy  said.  "Yawl  watch.  Yawl  help  me 
shell  some  corn." 

The  popcorn  was  under  the  bed  too.  We  shelled  it  into  the 
popper  and  Nancy  helped  Jason  hold  the  popper  over  the 
fire. 

"It's  not  popping,"  Jason  said.  "I  want  to  go  home." 

"You  wait,"  Nancy  said.  "It'll  begin  to  pop.  We'll  have 
fun  then."  She  was  sitting  close  to  the  fire.  The  lamp  was 
turned  up  so  high  it  was  beginning  to  smoke. 

"Why  don't  you  turn  it  down  some?"  I  said. 

"It's  all  right,"  Nancy  said.  "I'll  clean  it.  Yawl  wait.  The 
popcorn  will  start  in  a  minute." 

"I  don't  believe  it's  going  to  start,"  Caddy  said.  "We  ought 
to  start  home,  anyway.  They'll  be  worried." 

"No,"  Nancy  said.  "It's  going  to  pop.  Dilsey  will  tell  um 
yawl  with  me.  I  been  working  for  yawl  long  time.  They 
won't  mind  if  yawl  at  my  house.  You  wait,  now.  It'll  start 
popping  any  minute  now." 

Then  Jason  got  some  smoke  in  his  eyes  and  he  began  to 
cry.  He  dropped  the  popper  into  the  fire.  Nancy  got  a  wet 
rag  ard  wiped  Jason's  face,  but  he  didn't  stop  crying. 

"Hush,"  she  said.  "Hush."  But  he  didn't  hush.  Caddy  took 
the  popper  out  of  the  fire. 

"It's  burned  up,"  she  said.  "You'll  have  to  get  some  more 
popcorn,  Nancy." 

"Did  you  put  all  of  it  in?"  Nancy  said. 

"Yes,"  Caddy  said.  Nancy  looked  at  Caddy.  Then  she 
took  the  popper  and  opened  it  and  poured  the  cinders  into 
her  apron  and  began  to  sort  the  grains,  her  hands  long  and 
brown,  and  we  watching  her. 

"Haven't  you  got  any  more?"  Caddy  said. 

"Yes,"  Nancy  said;  "yes.  Look.  This  here  ain't  burnt.  All 
we  need  to  do  is — " 


306  The  Village 

"I  want  to  go  home,"  Jason  said.  "I'm  going  to  tell" 

"Hush,"  Caddy  said.  We  all  listened.  Nancy's  head  was 
already  turned  toward  the  barred  door,  her  eyes  filled  with 
red  lamplight.  "Somebody  is  coming,"  Caddy  said. 

Then  Nancy  began  to  make  that  sound  again,  not  loud, 
sitting  there  above  the  fire,  her  long  hands  dangling  between 
her  knees;  all  of  a  sudden  water  began  to  come  out  on  her 
face  in  big  drops,  running  down  her  face,  carrying  in  each 
one  a  little  turning  ball  of  firelight  like  a  spark  until  it 
dropped  off  her  chin.  "She's  not  crying,"  I  said. 

"I  ain't  crying,"  Nancy  said.  Her  eyes  were  closed.  "I  ain't 
crying.  Who  is  it?" 

"I  don't  know,"  Caddy  said.  She  went  to  the  door  and 
looked  out.  "We've  got  to  go  now,"  she  said.  "Here  comes 
father." 

"I'm  going  to  tell,"  Jason  said.  "Yawl  made  me  come." 

The  water  still  ran  down  Nancy's  face.  She  turned  in  her 
chair.  "Listen.  Tell  him.  Tell  him  we  going  to  have  fun.  Tell 
him  I  take  good  care  of  yawl  until  in  the  morning.  Tell  him 
to  let  me  come  home  with  yawl  and  sleep  on  the  floor.  Tell 
him  I  won't  need  no  pallet.  We'll  have  fun.  You  member 
last  time  how  we  had  so  much  fun?" 

"I  didn't  have  fun,"  Jason  said.  "You  hurt  me.  You  put 
smoke  in  my  eyes.  I'm  going  to  tell." 

V 

FATHER  CAME  IN.  He  looked  at  us.  Nancy  did  not  get  up. 
"Tell  him,"  she  said. 
"Caddy  made  us  come  down  here,"  Jason  said.  "I  didn't 


want  to." 


Father  came  to  the  fire.  Nancy  looked  up  at  him.  "Can't 
you  go  to  Aunt  Rachel's  and  stay?"  he  said.  Nancy  looked 
up  at  father,  her  hands  between  her  knees.  "He's  not  here," 


That  Evening  Sun  307 

father  said.  "I  would  have  seen  him.  There's  not  a  soul  in 
sight." 

"He  in  the  ditch,"  Nancy  said.  "He  waiting  in  the  ditch 
yonder." 

"Nonsense,"  father  said.  He  looked  at  Nancy.  "Do  you 
know  he's  there?" 

"I  got  the  sign,"  Nancy  said. 

"What  sign?" 

"I  got  it.  It  was  on  the  table  when  I  come  in.  It  was  a  hog- 
bone,  with  blood  meat  still  on  it,  laying  by  the  lamp.  He's 
out  there.  When  yawl  walk  out  that  door,  I  gone." 

"Gone  where,  Nancy?"  Caddy  said. 

"I'm  not  a  tattletale,"  Jason  said. 

"Nonsense,"  father  said. 

"He  out  there,"  Nancy  said.  "He  looking  through  that 
window  this  minute,  waiting  for  yawl  to  go.  Then  I  gone." 

"Nonsense,"  father  said.  "Lock  up  your  house  and  we'll 
take  you  on  to  Aunt  Rachel's." 

"  'Twont  do  no  good,"  Nancy  said.  She  didn't  look  at 
father  now,  but  he  looked  down  at  her,  at  her  long,  limp, 
moving  hands.  "Putting  it  off  wont  do  no  good." 

"Then  what  do  you  want  to  do?"  father  said. 

"I  don't  know,"  Nancy  said.  "I  can't  do  nothing.  Just  put 
it  off.  And  that  don't  do  no  good.  I  reckon  it  belong  to  me. 
I  reckon  what  I  going  to  get  ain't  no  more  than  mine." 

"Get  what?"  Caddy  said.  "What's  yours?" 

"Nothing,"  father  said.  "You  all  must  get  to  bed." 

"Caddy  made  me  come,"  Jason  said. 

"Go  on  to  Aunt  Rachel's,"  father  said. 

"It  won't  do  no  good,"  Nancy  said.  She  sat  before  the 
fire,  her  elbows  on  her  knees,  her  long  hands  between  her 
knees.  "When  even  your  own  kitchen  wouldn't  do  no  good. 
When  even  if  I  was  sleeping  on  the  floor  in  the  room  with 
your  chillen,  and  the  next  morning  there  I  am,  and  blood — " 


The  Village 

"Hush,"  father  said.  "Lock  the  door  and  put  out  the  lamp 
and  go  to  bed." 

"I  scared  of  the  dark,"  Nancy  said.  "I  scared  for  it  to  hap- 
pen in  the  dark." 

"You  mean  you're  going  to  sit  right  here  with  the  lamp 
lighted?"  father  said.  Then  Nancy  began  to  make  the  sound 
again,  sitting  before  the  fire,  her  long  hands  between  her 
knees.  "Ah,  damnation,"  father  said.  "Come  along,  chillen. 
It's  past  bedtime." 

"When  yawl  go  home,  I  gone,"  Nancy  said.  She  talked 
quieter  now,  and  her  face  looked  quiet,  like  her  hands.  "Any- 
way, I  got  my  coffin  money  saved  up  with  Mr.  Lovelady." 
Mr.  Lovelady  was  a  short,  dirty  man  who  collected  the 
Negro  insurance,  coming  around  to  the  cabins  or  the 
kitchens  every  Saturday  morning,  to  collect  fifteen  cents.  He 
and  his  wife  lived  at  the  hotel.  One  morning  his  wife  com- 
mitted suicide.  They  had  a  child,  a  little  girl.  He  and  the 
child  went  away.  After  a  week  or  two  he  came  back  alone. 
We  would  see  him  going  along  the  lanes  and  the  back  streets 
on  Saturday  mornings. 

"Nonsense,"  father  said.  "You'll  be  the  first  thing  I'll  see 
in  the  kitchen  tomorrow  morning." 

"You'll  see  what  you'll  see,  I  reckon,"  Nancy  said.  "But 
it  will  take  the  Lord  to  say  what  that  will  be." 


VI 

WE  LEFT  HER  sitting  before  the  fire. 

"Come  and  put  the  bar  up,"  father  said.  But  she  didn't 
move.  She  didn't  look  at  us  again,  sitting  quietly  there  be- 
tween the  lamp  and  the  fire.  From  some  distance  down  the 
lane  we  could  look  back  and  see  her  through  the  open  door. 
"What,  Father?"  Caddy  said.  "What's  going  to  happen?" 
"Nothing,"  father  said.  Jason  was  on  father's  back,  so 


That  Evening  Sun  309 

Jason  was  the  tallest  of  all  of  us.  We  went  down  into  the 
ditch.  I  looked  at  it,  quiet.  I  couldn't  see  much  where  the 
moonlight  and  the  shadows  tangled. 

"If  Jesus  is  hid  here,  he  can  see  us,  cant  he?"  Caddy  said. 

"He's  not  there,"  father  said.  "He  went  away  a  long  time 
ago." 

"You  made  me  come,"  Jason  said,  high;  against  the  sky  it 
looked  like  father  had  two  heads,  a  little  one  and  a  big  one. 
"I  didn't  want  to." 

We  went  up  out  of  the  ditch.  We  could  still  see  Nancy's 
house  and  the  open  door,  but  we  couldn't  see  Nancy  now, 
sitting  before  the  fire  with  the  door  open,  because  she  was 
tired.  "I  just  done  got  tired,"  she  said.  "I  just  a  nigger.  It 
ain't  no  fault  of  mine." 

But  we  could  hear  her,  because  she  began  just  after  we 
came  up  out  of  the  ditch,  the  sound  that  was  not  singing  and 
not  unsinging.  "Who  will  do  our  washing  now,  Father?" 
I  said. 

"I'm  not  a  nigger,"  Jason  said,  high  and  close  above 
father's  head. 

"You're  worse,"  Caddy  said,  "you  are  a  tattletale.  If  some- 
thing was  to  jump  out,  you'd  be  scairder  than  a  nigger." 

"I  wouldn't,"  Jason  said. 

"You'd  cry,"  Caddy  said. 

"Caddy,"  father  said. 

"I  wouldn't!"  Jason  said. 

"Scairy  cat,"  Caddy  said. 

"Candace!"  father  said. 


Ill  •  THE  WILDERNESS 


Red  Leaves 

A  Justice 

A  Courtship 

Lol 


Red  Leaves 


i 

THE  TWO  INDIANS  crossed  the  plantation  toward  the  slave 
quarters.  Neat  with  whitewash,  of  baked  soft  brick,  the  two 
rows  of  houses  in  which  lived  the  slaves  belonging  to  the 
clan,  faced  one  another  across  the  mild  shade  of  the  lane 
marked  and  scored  with  naked  feet  and  with  a  few  home- 
made toys  mute  in  the  dust.  There  was  no  sign  of  life. 

"I  know  what  we  will  find,"  the  first  Indian  said. 

"What  we  will  not  find,"  the  second  said.  Although  it 
was  noon,  the  lane  was  vacant,  the  doors  of  the  cabins  empty 
and  quiet;  no  cooking  smoke  rose  from  any  of  the  chinked 
and  plastered  chimneys. 

"Yes.  It  happened  like  this  when  the  father  of  him  who  is 
now  the  Man,  died." 

"You  mean,  of  him  who  was  the  Man." 

"Yao." 

The  first  Indian's  name  was  Three  Basket.  He  was  per- 
haps sixty.  They  were  both  squat  men,  a  little  solid,  burgher- 
like;  paunchy,  with  big  heads,  big,  broad,  dust-colored  faces 
of  a  certain  blurred  serenity  like  carved  heads  on  a  ruined 
wall  in  Siam  or  Sumatra,  looming  out  of  a  mist.  The  sun  had 
done  it,  the  violent  sun,  the  violent  shade.  Their  hair  looked 
like  sedge  grass  on  burnt-over  land.  Clamped  through  one 
ear  Three  Basket  wore  an  enameled  snuffbox. 

3'3 


314  The  Wilderness 

"I  have  said  all  the  time  that  this  is  not  the  good  way.  In 
the  old  days  there  were  no  quarters,  no  Negroes.  A  man's 
time  was  his  own  then.  He  had  time.  Now  he  must  spend 
most  of  it  finding  work  for  them  who  prefer  sweating  to  do/' 

"They  are  like  horses  and  dogs." 

"They  are  like  nothing  in  this  sensible  world.  Nothing 
contents  them  save  sweat.  They  are  worse  than  the  white 
people." 

"It  is  not  as  though  the  Man  himself  had  to  find  work  for 
them  to  do." 

"You  said  it.  I  do  not  like  slavery.  It  is  not  the  good  way. 
In  the  old  days,  there  was  the  good  way.  But  not  now." 

"You  do  not  remember  the  old  way  either." 

"I  have  listened  to  them  who  do.  And  I  have  tried  this 
way.  Man  was  not  made  to  sweat." 

"That's  so.  See  what  it  has  done  to  their  flesh." 

"Yes.  Black.  It  has  a  bitter  taste,  too." 

"You  have  eaten  of  it?" 

"Once.  I  was  young  then,  and  more  hardy  in  the  appetite 
than  now.  Now  it  is  different  with  me." 

"Yes.  They  are  too  valuable  to  eat  now." 

"There  is  a  bitter  taste  to  the  flesh  which  I  do  not  like." 

"They  are  too  valuable  to  eat,  anyway,  when  the  white 
men  will  give  horses  for  them." 

They  entered  the  lane.  The  mute,  meager  toys — the 
fetish-shaped  objects  made  of  wood  and  rags  and  feathers — 
lay  in  the  dust  about  the  patinaed  doorsteps,  among  bones 
and  broken  gourd  dishes.  But  there  was  no  sound  from  any 
cabin,  no  face  in  any  door;  had  not  been  since  yesterday, 
when  Issetibbeha  died.  But  they  already  knew  what  they 
would  find. 

It  was  in  the  central  cabin,  a  house  a  little  larger  than  the 
others,  where  at  certain  phases  of  the  moon  the  Negroes 
would  gather  to  begin  their  ceremonies  before  removing 


Red  Leaves  3 1 5 

after  nightfall  to  the  creek  bottom,  where  they  kept  the 
drums.  In  this  room  they  kept  the  minor  accessories,  the 
cryptic  ornaments,  the  ceremonial  records  which  consisted 
of  sticks  daubed  with  red  clay  in  symbols.  It  had  a  hearth  in 
the  center  of  the  floor,  beneath  a  hole  in  the  roof,  with  a  few 
cold  wood  ashes  and  a  suspended  iron  pot.  The  window 
shutters  were  closed;  when  the  two  Indians  entered,  after 
the  abashless  sunlight  they  could  distinguish  nothing  with  the 
•eyes  save  a  movement,  shadow,  out  of  which  eyeballs  rolled, 
so  that  the  place  appeared  to  be  full  of  Negroes.  The  two 
Indians  stood  in  the  doorway. 

"Yao,"  Basket  said.  "I  said  this  is  not  the  good  way." 

"I  don't  think  I  want  to  be  here,"  the  second  said. 

"That  is  black  man's  fear  which  you  smell.  It  does  not 
smell  as  ours  does." 

"I  don't  think  I  want  to  be  here." 

"Your  fear  has  an  odor  too." 

"Maybe  it  is  Issetibbeha  which  we  smell." 

"Yao.  He  knows.  He  knows  what  we  will  find  here.  He 
knew  when  he  died  what  we  should  find  here  today."  Out 
of  the  rank  twilight  of  the  room  the  eyes,  the  smell,  of 
Negroes  rolled  about  them.  "I  am  Three  Basket,  whom  you 
know,"  Basket  said  into  the  room.  "We  are  come  from  the 
Man.  He  whom  we  seek  is  gone?"  The  Negroes  said  nothing. 
The  smell  of  them,  of  their  bodies,  seemed  to  ebb  and  flux  in 
the  still  hot  air.  They  seemed  to  be  musing  as  one  upon 
something  remote,  inscrutable.  They  were  like  a  single 
octopus.  They  were  like  the  roots  of  a  huge  tree  uncovered, 
the  earth  broken  momentarily  upon  the  writhen,  thick,  fetid 
tangle  of  its  lightless  and  outraged  life.  "Come,"  Basket  said. 
"You  know  our  errand.  Is  he  whom  we  seek  gone?" 

"They  are  thinking  something,"  the  second  said.  "I  do 
not  want  to  be  here." 

"They  are  knowing  something,"  Basket  said. 


316  The  Wilderness 

"They  are  hiding  him,  you  think? " 

"No.  He  is  gone.  He  has  been  gone  since  last  night.  It  hap- 
pened like  this  before,  when  the  grandfather  of  him  who  is 
now  the  Man  died.  It  took  us  three  days  to  catch  him.  For 
three  days  Doom  lay  above  the  ground,  saying  1  see  my 
horse  and  my  dog.  But  I  do  not  see  my  slave.  What  have 
you  done  with  him  that  you  will  not  permit  me  to  lie 
quiet?'" 

"They  do  not  like  to  die." 

"Yao.  They  cling.  It  makes  trouble  for  us,  always.  A 
people  without  honor  and  without  decorum.  Always  a 
trouble." 

"I  do  not  like  it  here." 

"Nor  do  I.  But  then,  they  are  savages;  they  cannot  be 
expected  to  regard  usage.  That  is  why  I  say  that  this  way 
is  a  bad  way." 

"Yao.  They  cling.  They  would  even  rather  work  in  the 
sun  than  to  enter  the  earth  with  a  chief.  But  he  is  gone." 

The  Negroes  had  said  nothing,  made  no  sound.  The 
white  eyeballs  rolled,  wild,  subdued;  the  smell  was  rank, 
violent.  "Yes,  they  fear,"  the  second  said.  "What  shall  we 
do  now?" 

"Let  us  go  and  talk  with  the  Man." 

"Will  Moketubbe  listen?" 

"What  can  he  do?  He  will  not  like  to.  But  he  is  the  Man 


now." 


"Yao.  He  is  the  Man.  He  can  wear  the  shoes  with  the  red 
heels  all  the  time  now."  They  turned  and  went  out.  There 
was  no  door  in  the  door  frame.  There  were  no  doors  in 
any  of  the  cabins. 

"He  did  that  anyway,"  Basket  said. 

"Behind  Issetibbeha's  back.  But  now  they  are  his  shoes, 
since  he  is  the  Man." 

"Yao.  Issetibbeha  did  not  like  it.  I  have  heard.  I  know  that 


Red  Leaves  317 

he  said  to  Moketubbe:  'When  you  are  the  Man,  the  shoes 
will  be  yours.  But  until  then,  they  are  my  shoes.'  But  now 
Moketubbe  is  the  Man;  he  can  wear  them." 

"Yao,"  the  second  said.  "He  is  the  Man  now.  He  used  to 
wear  the  shoes  behind  Issetibbeha's  back,  and  it  was  not 
known  if  Issetibbeha  knew  this  or  not.  And  then  Issetibbeha 
became  dead,  who  was  not  old,  and  the  shoes  are  Moketub- 
be's,  since  he  is  the  Man  now.  What  do  you  think  of  that?" 

"I  don't  think  about  it,"  Basket  said.  "Do  you?" 

"No,"  the  second  said. 

"Good,"  Basket  said.  "You  are  wise." 


II 

THE  HOUSE  sat  on  a  knoll,  surrounded  by  oak  trees.  The 
front  of  it  was  one  story  in  height,  composed  of  the  deck 
house  of  a  steamboat  which  had  gone  ashore  and  which 
Doom,  Issetibbeha's  father,  had  dismantled  with  his  slaves 
and  hauled  on  cypress  rollers  twelve  miles  home  overland.  It 
took  them  five  months.  His  house  consisted  at  the  time  of  one 
brick  wall.  He  set  the  steamboat  broadside  on  to  the  wall, 
where  now  the  chipped  and  flaked  gilding  of  the  rococo 
cornices  arched  in  faint  splendor  above  the  gilt  lettering  of 
the  stateroom  names  above  the  jalousied  doors. 

Doom  had  been  born  merely  a  subchief,  a  Mingo,  one  of 
three  children  on  the  mother's  side  of  the  family.  He  made 
a  journey — he  was  a  young  man  then  and  New  Orleans  was 
a  European  city — from  north  Mississippi  to  New  Orleans 
by  keel  boat,  where  he  met  the  Chevalier  Sceur  Blonde  de 
Vitry,  a  man  whose  social  position,  on  its  face,  was  as 
equivocal  as  Doom's  own.  In  New  Orleans,  among  the 
gamblers  and  cutthroats  of  the  river  front,  Doom,  under  the 
tutelage  of  his  patron,  passed  as  the  chief,  the  Man,  the  he- 
reditary owner  of  that  land  which  belonged  to  the  male  side 


318  The  Wilderness 

of  the  family;  it  was  the  Chevalier  de  Vitry  who  called  him 
du  homme,  and  hence  Doom. 

They  were  seen  everywhere  together — the  Indian,  the 
squat  man  with  a  bold,  inscrutable,  underbred  face,  and  the 
Parisian,  the  expatriate,  the  friend,  it  was  said,  of  Carondelet 
and  the  intimate  of  General  Wilkinson.  Then  they  disap- 
peared, the  two  of  them,  vanishing  from  their  old  equivocal 
haunts  and  leaving  behind  them  the  legend  of  the  sums 
which  Doom  was  believed  to  have  won,  and  some  tale  about 
a  young  woman,  daughter  of  a  fairly  well-to-do  West  Indian 
family,  the  son  and  brother  of  whom  sought  Doom  with  a 
pistol  about  his  old  haunts  for  some  time  after  his  disappear- 
ance. 

Six  months  later  the  young  woman  herself  disappeared, 
boarding  the  St.  Louis  packet,  which  put  in  one  night  at 
a  wood  landing  on  the  north  Mississippi  side,  where  the 
woman,  accompanied  by  a  Negro  maid,  got  off.  Four  Indians 
met  her  with  a  horse  and  wagon,  and  they  traveled  for  three 
days,  slowly,  since  she  was  already  big  with  child,  to  the 
plantation,  where  she  found  that  Doom  was  now  chief.  He 
never  told  her  how  he  accomplished  it,  save  that  his  uncle 
and  his  cousin  had  died  suddenly.  At  that  time  the  house 
consisted  of  a  brick  wall  built  by  shiftless  slaves,  against 
which  was  propped  a  thatched  lean-to  divided  into  rooms 
and  littered  with  bones  and  refuse,  set  in  the  center  of  ten 
thousand  acres  of  matchless  parklike  forest  where  deer 
grazed  like  domestic  cattle.  Doom  and  the  woman  \vere 
married  there  a  short  time  before  Issetibbeha  was  born,  by 
a  combination  itinerant  minister  and  slave  trader  who  arrived 
on  a  mule,  to  the  saddle  of  which  was  lashed  a  cotton  um- 
brella and  a  three-gallon  demijohn  of  whisky.  After  that, 
Doom  began  to  acquire  more  slaves  and  to  cultivate  some  of 
his  land,  as  the  white  people  did.  But  he  never  had  enough 
for  them  to  do.  In  utter  idleness  the  majority  of  them  led 
lives  transplanted  whole  out  of  African  jungles,  save  on  the 


Red  Leaves  319 

occasions  when,  entertaining  guests,  Doom  coursed  them 
with  dogs. 

When  Doom  died,  Issetibbeha,  his  son,  was  nineteen.  He 
became  proprietor  of  the  land  and  of  the  quintupled  herd 
of  blacks  for  which  he  had  no  use  at  all.  Though  the  title 
of  Man  rested  with  him,  there  was  a  hierarchy  of  cousins 
and  uncles  who  ruled  the  clan  and  who  finally  gathered  in 
squatting  conclave  over  the  Negro  question,  squatting  pro- 
foundly beneath  the  golden  names  above  the  doors  of  the 
steamboat. 

"We  cannot  eat  them,"  one  said. 

"Why  not?" 

"There  are  too  many  of  them." 

"That's  true,"  a  third  said.  "Once  we  started,  we  should 
have  to  eat  them  all.  And  that  much  flesh  diet  is  not  good 
for  man." 

"Perhaps  they  will  be  like  deer  flesh.  That  cannot  hurt 
you." 

"We  might  kill  a  few  of  them  and  not  eat  them,"  Issetib- 
beha said. 

They  looked  at  him  for  a  while.  "What  for?"  one  said. 

"That  is  true,"  a  second  said.  "We  cannot  do  that.  They 
are  too  valuable;  remember  all  the  bother  they  have  caused 
us,  finding  things  for  them  to  do.  We  must  do  as  the  white 
men  do." 

"How  is  that?"  Issetibbeha  said. 

"Raise  more  Negroes  by  clearing  more  land  to  make  corn 
to  feed  them,  then  sell  them.  We  will  clear  the  land  and 
plant  it  with  food  and  raise  Negroes  and  sell  them  to  the 
white  men  for  money." 

"But  what  will  we  do  with  this  money?"  a  third  said. 

They  thought  for  a  while. 

"We  will  see,"  the  first  said.  They  squatted,  profound, 
grave. 

"It  means  work,"  the  third  said. 


320  The  Wilderness 

"Let  the  Negroes  do  it,"  the  first  said. 

"Yao.  Let  them.  To  sweat  is  bad.  It  is  damp.  It  opens  the 
pores." 

"And  then  the  night  air  enters." 

"Yao.  Let  the  Negroes  do  it.  They  appear  to  like  sweat- 
ing." 

So  they  cleared  the  land  with  the  Negroes  and  planted 
it  in  grain.  Up  to  that  time  the  slaves  had  lived  in  a  huge 
pen  with  a  lean-to  roof  over  one  corner,  like  a  pen  for  pigs. 
But  now  they  began  to  build  quarters,  cabins,  putting  the 
young  Negroes  in  the  cabins  in  pairs  to  mate;  five  years 
later  Issetibbeha  sold  forty  head  to  a  Memphis  trader,  and 
he  took  the  money  and  went  abroad  upon  it,  his  maternal 
uncle  from  New  Orleans  conducting  the  trip.  At  that  time 
the  Chevalier  Soeur  Blonde  de  Vitry  was  an  old  man  in 
Paris,  in  a  toupee  and  a  corset,  with  a  careful  toothless  old 
face  fixed  in  a  grimace  quizzical  and  profoundly  tragic.  He 
borrowed  three  hundred  dollars  from  Issetibbeha  and  in 
return  he  introduced  him  into  certain  circles;  a  year  later 
Issetibbeha  returned  home  with  a  gilt  bed,  a  pair  of  girandoles 
by  whose  light  it  was  said  that  Pompadour  arranged  her 
hair  while  Louis  smirked  at  his  mirrored  face  across  her 
powdered  shoulder,  and  a  pair  of  slippers  with  red  heels. 
They  were  too  small  for  him,  since  he  had  not  worn  shoes 
at  all  until  he  reached  New  Orleans  on  his  way  abroad. 

He  brought  the  slippers  home  in  tissue  paper  and  kept  them 
in  the  remaining  pocket  of  a  pair  of  saddlebags  filled  with 
cedar  shavings,  save  when  he  took  them  out  on  occasion  for 
his  son,  Moketubbe,  to  play  with.  At  three  years  of  age 
Moketubbe  had  a  broad,  flat,  Mongolian  face  that  appeared 
to  exist  in  a  complete  and  unfathomable  lethargy,  until  con- 
fronted by  the  slippers. 

Moketubbe's  mother  was  a  comely  girl  whom  Issetibbeha 
had  seen  one  day  working  in  her  shift  in  a  melon  patch.  He 


Red  Leaves  321 

stopped  and  watched  her  for  a  while — the  broad,  solid  thighs, 
the  sound  back,  the  serene  face.  He  was  on  his  way  to  the 
creek  to  fish  that  day,  but  he  didn't  go  any  farther;  perhaps 
while  he  stood  there  watching  the  unaware  girl  he  may  have 
remembered  his  own  mother,  the  city  woman,  the  fugitive 
with  her  fans  and  laces  and  her  Negro  blood,  and  all  the 
tawdry  shabbiness  of  that  sorry  affair.  Within  the  year 
Moketubbe  was  born;  even  at  three  he  could  not  get  his  feet 
into  the  slippers.  Watching  him  in  the  still,  hot  afternoons 
as  he  struggled  with  the  slippers  with  a  certain  monstrous 
repudiation  of  fact,  Issetibbeha  laughed  quietly  to  himself. 
He  laughed  at  Moketubbe  and  the  shoes  for  several  years, 
because  Moketubbe  did  not  give  up  trying  to  put  them  on 
until  he  was  sixteen.  Then  he  quit.  Or  Issetibbeha  thought 
he  had.  But  he  had  merely  quit  trying  in  Issetibbeha's  pres- 
ence. Issetibbeha's  newest  wife  told  him  that  Moketubbe  had 
stolen  and  hidden  the  shoes.  Issetibbeha  quit  laughing  then, 
and  he  sent  the  woman  away,  so  that  he  was  alone.  "Yao," 
he  said.  "I  too  like  being  alive,  it  seems."  He  sent  for  Moke- 
tubbe. "I  give  them  to  you,"  he  said. 

Moketubbe  was  twenty-five  then,  unmarried.  Issetibbeha 
was  not  tall,  but  he  was  taller  by  six  inches  than  his  son  and 
almost  a  hundred  pounds  lighter.  Moketubbe  was  already 
diseased  with  flesh,  with  a  pale,  broad,  inert  face  and  drop- 
sical hands  and  feet.  "They  are  yours  now,"  Issetibbeha  said, 
watching  him.  Moketubbe  had  looked  at  him  once  when  he 
entered,  a  glance  brief,  discreet,  veiled. 

"Thanks,"  he  said. 

Issetibbeha  looked  at  him.  He  could  never  tell  if  Moke- 
tubbe saw  anything,  looked  at  anything.  "Why  will  it  not  be 
the  same  if  I  give  the  slippers  to  you?" 

"Thanks,"  Moketubbe  said.  Issetibbeha  was  using  snuff  at 
the  time;  a  white  man  had  shown  him  how  to  put  the  powder 


322  The  Wilderness: 

into  his  lip  and  scour  it  against  his  teeth  with  a  twig  of  gum 
or  of  alphea. 

"Well,"  he  said,  "a  man  cannot  live  forever."  He  looked 
at  his  son,  then  his  gaze  went  blank  in  turn,  unseeing,  and 
he  mused  for  an  instant.  You  could  not  tell  what  he  was 
thinking,  save  that  he  said  half  aloud:  "Yao.  But  Doom's 
uncle  had  no  shoes  with  red  heels."  He  looked  at  his  son 
again,  fat,  inert.  "Beneath  all  that,  a  man  might  think  of 
doing  anything  and  it  not  be  known  until  too  late."  He  sat 
in  a  splint  chair  hammocked  with  deer  thongs.  aHe  cannot 
even  get  them  on;  he  and  I  are  both  frustrated  by  the  same 
gross  meat  which  he  wears.  He  cannot  even  get  them  on. 
But  is  that  my  fault? " 

He  lived  for  five  years  longer,  then  he  died.  He  was  sick 
one  night,  and  though  the  doctor  came  in  a  skunk-skin  vest 
and  burned  sticks,  he  died  before  noon. 

That  was  yesterday;  the  grave  was  dug,  and  for  twelve 
hours  now  the  People  had  been  coming  in  wagons  and  car- 
riages and  on  horseback  and  afoot,  to  eat  the  baked  dog  and 
the  succotash  and  the  yams  cooked  in  ashes  and  to  attend 
the  funeral. 

Ill 

"Ix  WILL  BE  THREE  DAYS,"  Basket  said,  as  he  and  the  other 
Indian  returned  to  the  house.  "It  will  be  three  days  and  the 
food  will  not  be  enough;  I  have  seen  it  before." 

The  second  Indian's  name  was  Louis  Berry.  "He  will 
smell  too,  in  this  weather." 

"Yao.  They  are  nothing  but  a  trouble  and  a  care." 

"Maybe  it  will  not  take  three  days." 

"They  run  far.  Yao.  We  will  smell  this  Man  before  he 
enters  the  earth.  You  watch  and  see  if  I  am  not  right." 

They  approached  the  house. 


Red  Leaves  323 

"He  can  wear  the  shoes  now,"  Berry  said.  "He  can  wear 
them  now  in  man's  sight." 

"He  cannot  wear  them  for  a  while  yet,"  Basket  said.  Berry 
looked  at  him.  "He  will  lead  the  hunt." 

"Moketubbe?"  Berry  said.  "Do  you  think  he  will?  A  man 
to  whom  even  talking  is  travail?" 

"What  else  can  he  do?  It  is  his  own  father  who  will  soon 
begin  to  smell." 

"That  is  true,"  Berry  said.  "There  is  even  yet  a  price  he 
must  pay  for  the  shoes.  Yao.  He  has  truly  bought  them. 
What  do  you  think?" 

"What  do  you  think?" 

"What  do  you  think?" 

"I  think  nothing." 

"Nor  do  I.  Issetibbeha  will  not  need  the  shoes  now.  Let 
Moketubbe  have  them;  Issetibbeha  will  not  care." 

"Yao.  Man  must  die." 

"Yao.  Let  him;  there  is  still  the  Man." 

The  bark  roof  of  the  porch  was  supported  by  peeled 
cypress  poles,  high  above  the  texas  of  the  steamboat,  shad- 
ing an  unfloored  banquette  where  on  the  trodden  earth 
mules  and  horses  were  tethered  in  bad  weather.  On  the 
forward  end  of  the  steamboat's  deck  sat  an  old  man  and 
two  women.  One  of  the  women  was  dressing  a  fowl,  the 
other  was  shelling  corn.  The  old  man  was  talking.  He  was 
barefoot,  in  a  long  linen  frock  coat  and  a  beaver  hat. 

"This  world  is  going  to  the  dogs,"  he  said.  "It  is  being 
ruined  by  white  men.  We  got  along  fine  for  years  and 
years,  before  the  white  men  foisted  their  Negroes  upon 
us.  In  the  old  days  the  old  men  sat  in  the  shade  and  ate 
stewed  deer's  flesh  and  corn  and  smoked  tobacco  and  talked 
of  honor  and  grave  affairs;  now  what  do  we  do?  Even  the 
old  wear  themselves  into  the  grave  taking  care  of  them  that 
like  sweating."  When  Basket  and  Berry  crossed  the  deck 


324  The  Wilderness 

he  ceased  and  looked  up  at  them.  His  eyes  were  querulous, 
bleared;  his  face  was  myriad  with  tiny  wrinkles.  "He  is  fled 
also,"  he  said. 

"Yes,"  Berry  said,  "he  is  gone." 

"I  knew  it.  I  told  them  so.  It  will  take  three  weeks,  like 
when  Doom  died.  You  watch  and  see." 

"It  was  three  days,  not  three  weeks,"  Berry  said. 

"Were  you  there?" 

"No,"  Berry  said.  "But  I  have  heard." 

"Well,  I  was  there,"  the  old  man  said.  "For  three  whole 
weeks,  through  the  swamps  and  the  briers — "  They  went 
on  and  left  him  talking. 

What  had  been  the  saloon  of  the  steamboat  was  now  a 
shell,  rotting  slowly;  the  polished  mahogany,  the  carving 
glinting  momentarily  and  fading  through  the  mold  in  figures 
cabalistic  and  profound;  the  gutted  windows  were  like 
cataracted  eyes.  It  contained  a  few  sacks  of  seed  or  grain, 
and  the  fore  part  of  the  running  gear  of  a  barouche,  to  the 
axle  of  which  two  C-springs  rusted  in  graceful  curves,  sup- 
porting nothing.  In  one  corner  a  fox  cub  ran  steadily  and 
soundlessly  up  and  down  a  willow  cage;  three  scrawny 
gamecocks  moved  in  the  dust,  and  the  place  was  pocked 
and  marked  with  their  dried  droppings. 

They  passed  through  the  brick  wall  and  entered  a  big 
room  of  chinked  logs.  It  contained  the  hinder  part  of  the 
barouche,  and  the  dismantled  body  lying  on  its  side,  the 
window  slatted  over  with  willow  withes,  through  which 
protruded  the  heads,  the  still,  beady,  outraged  eyes  and  frayed 
combs  of  still  more  game  chickens.  It  was  floored  with 
packed  clay;  in  one  corner  leaned  a  crude  plow  and  two 
hand-hewn  boat  paddles.  From  the  ceiling,  suspended  by 
four  deer  thongs,  hung  the  gilt  bed  which  Issetibbeha  had 
fetched  from  Paris.  It  had  neither  mattress  nor  springs,  the 
frame  crisscrossed  now  by  a  neat  hammocking  of  thongs. 


Red  Leaves  325 

Issetibbeha  had  tried  to  have  his  newest  wife,  the  young 
one,  sleep  in  the  bed.  He  was  congenitally  short  of  breath 
himself,  and  he  passed  the  nights  half  reclining  in  his  splint 
chair.  He  would  see  her  to  bed  and,  later,  wakeful,  sleeping 
as  he  did  but  three  or  four  hours  a  night,  he  would  sit  in  the 
darkness  and  simulate  slumber  and  listen  to  her  sneak 
infinitesimally  from  the  gilt  and  ribboned  bed,  to  lie  on  a 
quilt  pallet  on  the  floor  until  just  before  daylight.  Then  she 
would  enter  the  bed  quietly  again  and  in  turn  simulate 
slumber,  while  in  the  darkness  beside  her  Issetibbeha  quietly 
laughed  and  laughed. 

The  girandoles  were  lashed  by  thongs  to  two  sticks 
propped  in  a  corner  where  a  ten-gallon  whisky  keg  lay  also. 
There  was  a  clay  hearth;  facing  it,  in  the  splint  chair,  Moke- 
tubbe  sat.  He  was  maybe  an  inch  better  than  five  feet  tall, 
and  he  weighed  two  hundred  and  fifty  pounds.  He  wore  a 
broadcloth  coat  and  no  shirt,  his  round,  smooth  copper 
balloon  of  belly  swelling  above  the  bottom  piece  of  a  suit 
of  linen  underwear.  On  his  feet  were  the  slippers  with  the  red 
heels.  Behind  his  chair  stood  a  stripling  with  a  punkah-like 
fan  made  of  fringed  paper.  Moketubbe  sat  motionless,  with 
his  broad,  yellow  face  with  its  closed  eyes  and  flat  nostrils, 
his  flipperlike  arms  extended.  On  his  face  was  an  expression 
profound,  tragic,  and  inert.  He  did  not  open  his  eyes  when 
Basket  and  Berry  came  in.  • 

"He  has  worn  them  since  daylight?"  Basket  said. 

"Since  daylight,"  the  stripling  said.  The  fan  did  not  cease. 
"You  can  see." 

"Yao,"  Basket  said.  "We  can  see."  Moketubbe  did  not 
move.  He  looked  like  an  effigy,  like  a  Malay  god  in  frock 
coat,  drawers,  naked  chest,  the  trivial  scarkt-heeled  shoes. 

"I  wouldn't  disturb  him,  if  I  were  you,"  the  stripling  said. 

"Not  if  I  were  you,"  Basket  said.  He  and  Berry  squatted. 
The  stripling  moved  the  fan  steadily.  "O  Man,"  Basket  said, 


326  The  Wilderness 

"listen."  Moketubbe  did  not  move.  "He  is  gone,"  Basket 
said. 

"I  told  you  so,"  the  stripling  said.  "I  knew  he  would  flee. 
I  told  you." 

"Yao,"  Basket  said.  "You  are  not  the  first  to  tell  us  after- 
ward what  we  should  have  known  before.  Why  is  it  that 
some  of  you  wise  men  took  no  steps  yesterday  to  prevent 
this?" 

"He  does  not  wish  to  die,"  Berry  said. 

"Why  should  he  not  wish  it?"  Basket  said. 

"Because  he  must  die  some  day  is  no  reason,"  the  stripling 
said.  "That  would  not  convince  me  either,  old  man." 

"Hold  your  tongue,"  Berry  said. 

"For  twenty  years,"  Basket  said,  "while  others  of  his  race 
sweat  in  the  fields,  he  served  the  Man  in  the  shade.  Why 
should  he  not  wish  to  die,  since  he  did  not  wish  to  sweat?" 

"And  it  will  be  quick,"  Berry  said.  "It  will  not  take  long.s 

"Catch  him  and  tell  him  that,"  the  stripling  said. 

"Hush,"  Berry  said.  They  squatted,  watching  Moketubbe's 
face.  He  might  have  been  dead  himself.  It  was  as  though 
he  were  cased  so  in  flesh  that  even  breathing  took  place  too 
deep  within  him  to  show. 

"Listen,  O  Man,"  Basket  said.  "Issetibbeha  is  dead.  He 
waits.  His  dog  and  his  horse  we  have.  But  his  slave  has  fled. 
The  one  who  held  the  pot  for  him,  who  ate  of  his  food, 
from  his  dish,  is  fled.  Issetibbeha  waits." 

"Yao,"  Berry  said. 

"This  is  not  the  first  time,"  Basket  said.  "This  happened 
when  Doom,  thy  grandfather,  lay  waiting  at  the  door  of  the 
earth.  He  lay  waiting  three  days,  saying,  'Where  is  my 
Negro?'  And  Issetibbeha,  thy  father,  answered,  'I  will  find 
him.  Rest;  I  will  bring  him  to  you  so  that  you  may  begin 
the  journey/  " 

"Yao,"  Berry  said. 


Red  Leaves  327 

Moketubbe  had  not  moved,  had  not  opened  his  eyes. 

"For  three  days  Issetibbeha  hunted  in  the  bottom,"  Basket 
said.  "He  did  not  even  return  home  for  food,  until  the 
Negro  was  with  him;  then  he  said  to  Doom,  his  father, 
'Here  is  thy  dog,  thy  horse,  thy  Negro;  rest.'  Issetibbeha, 
who  is  dead  since  yesterday,  said  it.  And  now  Issetibbeha's 
Negro  is  fled.  His  horse  and  his  dog  wait  with  him,  but  his 
Negro  is  fled." 

"Yao,"  Berry  said. 

Moketubbe  had  not  moved.  His  eyes  were  closed;  upon 
his  supine  monstrous  shape  there  was  a  colossal  inertia, 
something  profoundly  immobile,  beyond  and  impervious  to 
flesh.  They  watched  his  face,  squatting. 

"When  thy  father  was  newly  the  Man,  this  happened," 
Basket  said.  "And  it  was  Issetibbeha  who  brought  back  the 
slave  to  where  his  father  waited  to  enter  the  earth."  Moke- 
tubbe's  face  had  not  moved,  his  eyes  had  not  moved.  After 
a  while  Basket  said,  "Remove  the  shoes." 

The  stripling  removed  the  shoes.  Moketubbe  began  to 
pant,  his  bare  chest  moving  deep,  as  though  he  were  rising 
from  beyond  his  unfathomed  flesh  back  into  life,  like  up 
from  the  water,  the  sea.  But  his  eyes  had  not  opened  yet. 

Berry  said,  "He  will  lead  the  hunt." 

"Yao,"  Basket  said.  "He  is  the  Man.  He  will  lead  the  hunt." 


IV 

ALL  THAT  DAY  the  Negro,  Issetibbeha's  body  servant,  hidden 
in  the  barn,  watched  Issetibbeha's  dying.  He  was  forty,  a 
Guinea  man.  He  had  a  flat  nose,  a  close,  small  head;  the 
inside  corners  of  his  eyes  showed  red  a  little,  and  his  prom- 
inent gums  were  a  pale  bluish  red  above  his  square,  broad 
teeth.  He  had  been  taken  at  fourteen  by  a  trader  off  Kam- 


328  The  Wilderness 

erun,  before  his  teeth  had  been  filed.  He  had  been  Issetib- 
beha's  body  servant  for  twenty-three  years. 

On  the  day  before,  the  day  on  which  Issetibbeha  lay  sick, 
he  returned  to  the  quarters  at  dusk.  In  that  unhurried  hour 
the  smoke  of  the  cooking  fires  blew  slowly  across  the  street 
from  door  to  door,  carrying  into  the  opposite  one  the  smell 
of  the  identical  meat  and  bread.  The  women  tended  them; 
the  men  were  gathered  at  the  head  of  the  lane,  watching  him 
as  he  came  down  the  slope  from  the  house,  putting  his  naked 
feet  down  carefully  in  a  strange  dusk.  To  the  waiting  men 
his  eyeballs  were  a  little  luminous. 

"Issetibbeha  is  not  dead  yet,"  the  headman  said. 

"Not  dead,"  the  body  servant  said.  "Who  not  dead?" 

In  the  dusk  they  had  faces  like  his,  the  different  ages,  the 
thoughts  sealed  inscrutable  behind  faces  like  the  death  masks 
of  apes.  The  smell  of  the  fires,  the  cooking,  blew  sharp  and 
slow  across  the  strange  dusk,  as  from  another  world,  above 
the  lane  and  the  pickaninnies  naked  in  the  dust. 

"If  he  lives  past  sundown,  he  will  live  until  daybreak," 
one  said. 

"Who  says?" 

"Talk  says." 

"Yao.  Talk  says.  We  know  but  one  thing."  They  looked 
at  the  body  servant  as  he  stood  among  them,  his  eyeballs 
a  little  luminous.  He  was  breathing  slow  and  deep.  His  chest 
was  bare;  he  was  sweating  a  little.  "He  knows.  He  knows  it." 

"Let  us  let  the  drums  talk." 

"Yao.  Let  the  drums  tell  it." 

The  drums  began  after  dark.  They  kept  them  hidden  in 
the  creek  bottom.  They  were  made  of  hollowed  cypress 
knees,  and  the  Negroes  kept  them  hidden;  why,  none  knew. 
They  were  buried  in  the  mud  on  the  bank  of  a  slough;  a 
lad  of  fourteen  guarded  them.  He  was  undersized,  and  a 
mute;  he  squatted  in  the  mud  there  all  day,  clouded  over 


Red  Leaves  329 

with  mosquitoes,  naked  save  for  the  mud  with  which  he 
coated  himself  against  the  mosquitoes,  and  about  his  neck  a 
fiber  bag  containing  a  pig's  rib  to  which  black  shreds  of 
flesh  still  adhered,  and  two  scaly  barks  on  a  wire.  He  slob- 
bered onto  his  clutched  knees,  drooling;  now  and  then 
Indians  came  noiselessly  out  of  the  bushes  behind  him  and 
stood  there  and  contemplated  him  for  a  while  and  went 
away,  and  he  never  knew  it. 

From  the  loft  of  the  stable  where  he  lay  hidden  until 
dark  and  after,  the  Negro  could  hear  the  drums.  They  were 
three  miles  away,  but  he  could  hear  them  as  though  they 
were  in  the  barn  itself  below  him,  thudding  and  thudding. 
It  was  as  though  he  could  see  the  fire  too,  and  the  black 
limbs  turning  into  and  out  of  the  flames  in  copper  gleams. 
Only  there  would  be  no  fire.  There  would  be  no  more  light 
there  than  where  he  lay  in  the  dusty  loft,  with  the  whisper- 
ing arpeggios  of  rat  feet  along  the  warm  and  immemorial 
ax-squared  rafters.  The  only  fire  there  would  be  the  smudge 
against  mosquitoes  where  the  women  with  nursing  children 
crouched,  their  heavy  sluggish  breasts  nippled  full  and 
smooth  into  the  mouths  of  men  children;  contemplative, 
oblivious  of  the  drumming,  since  a  fire  would  signify  life. 

There  was  a  fire  in  the  steamboat,  where  Issetibbeha  lay 
dying  among  his  wives,  beneath  the  lashed  girandoles  and  the 
suspended  bed.  He  could  see  the  smoke,  and  just  before  sun- 
set he  saw  the  doctor  come  out,  in  a  waistcoat  made  of 
skunk  skins,  and  set  fire  to  two  clay-daubed  sticks  at  the 
bows  of  the  boat  deck.  "So  he  is  not  dead  yet,"  the  Negro 
said  into  the  whispering  gloom  of  the  loft,  answering  him- 
self; he  could  hear  the  two  voices,  himself  and  himself: 

"Who  not  dead?" 

"You  are  dead." 

"Yao,  I  am  dead,"  he  said  quietly.  He  wished  to  be  where 
the  drums  were.  He  imagined  himself  springing  out  of  the 


330  The  Wilderness 

bushes,  leaping  among  the  drums  on  his  bare,  lean,  greasy, 
invisible  limbs.  But  he  could  not  do  that,  because  man  leaped 
past  life,  into  where  death  was;  he  dashed  into  death  and  did 
not  die,  because  when  death  took  a  man,  it  took  him  just  this 
side  of  the  end  of  living.  It  was  when  death  overran  him 
from  behind,  still  in  life.  The  thin  whisper  of  rat  feet  died 
in  fainting  gusts  along  the  rafters.  Once  he  had  eaten  rat. 
He  was  a  boy  then,  but  just  come  to  America.  They  had 
lived  ninety  days  in  a  three-foot-high  'tween-deck  in  tropic 
latitudes,  hearing  from  topside  the  drunken  New  England 
captain  intoning  aloud  from  a  book  which  he  did  not  recog- 
nize for  ten  years  afterward  to  be  the  Bible.  Squatting  in  the 
stable  so,  he  had  watched  the  rat,  civilized,  by  association 
with  man  reft  of  its  inherent  cunning  of  limb  and  eye;  he 
had  caught  it  without  difficulty,  with  scarce  a  movement 
of  his  hand,  and  he  ate  it  slowly,  wondering  how  any  of  the 
rats  had  escaped  so  long.  At  that  time  he  was  still  wearing 
the  single  white  garment  which  the  trader,  a  deacon  in  the 
Unitarian  church,  had  given  him,  and  he  spoke  then  only  his 
native  tongue. 

He  was  naked  now,  save  for  a  pair  of  dungaree  pants 
bought  by  Indians  from  white  men,  and  an  amulet  slung  on 
a  thong  about  his  hips.  The  amulet  consisted  of  one  half  of 
a  mother-of-pearl  lorgnon  which  Issetibbeha  had  brought 
back  from  Paris,  and  the  skull  of  a  cottonmouth  moccasin. 
He  had  killed  the  snake  himself  and  eaten  it,  save  the  poison 
head.  He  lay  in  the  loft,  watching  the  house,  the  steamboat, 
listening  to  the  drums,  thinking  of  himself  among  the  drums. 

He  lay  there  all  night.  The  next  morning  he  saw  the  doctor 
come  out,  in  his  skunk  vest,  and  get  on  his  mule  and  ride 
away,  and  he  became  quite  still  and  watched  the  final  dust 
from  beneath  the  mule's  delicate  feet  die  away,  and  then  he 
found  that  he  was  still  breathing  and  it  seemed  strange  to 
him  that  he  still  breathed  air,  still  needed  air.  Then  he  lay 


Red  Leaves  331 

and  watched  quietly,  waiting  to  move,  his  eyeballs  a  little 
luminous,  but  with  a  quiet  light,  and  his  breathing  light  and 
regular,  and  saw  Louis  Berry  come  out  and  look  at  the  sky. 
It  was  good  light  then,  and  already  five  Indians  squatted  in 
their  Sunday  clothes  along  the  steamboat  deck;  by  noon 
there  were  twenty-five  there.  That  afternoon  they  dug  the 
trench  in  which  the  meat  would  be  baked,  and  the  yams; 
by  that  time  there  were  almost  a  hundred  guests — decorous, 
quiet,  patient  in  their  stiff  European  finery — and  he  watched 
Berry  lead  Issetibbeha's  mare  from  the  stable  and  tie  her  to 
a  tree,  and  then  he  watched  Berry  emerge  from  the  house 
with  the  old  hound  which  lay  beside  Issetibbeha's  chair.  He 
tied  the  hound  to  the  tree  too,  and  it  sat  there,  looking 
gravely  about  at  the  faces.  Then  it  began  to  howl.  It  was  still 
howling  at  sundown,  when  the  Negro  climbed  down  the 
back  wall  of  the  barn  and  entered  the  spring  branch,  where 
it  was  already  dusk.  He  began  to  run  then.  He  could  hear 
the  hound  howling  behind  him,  and  near  the  spring,  already 
running,  he  passed  another  Negro.  The  two  men,  the  one 
motionless  and  the  other  running,  looked  for  an  instant  at 
each  other  as  though  across  an  actual  boundary  between  twc 
different  worlds.  He  ran  on  into  full  darkness,  mouth  closed, 
fists  doubled,  his  broad  nostrils  bellowing  steadily. 

He  ran  on  in  the  darkness.  He  knew  the  country  well, 
because  he  had  hunted  it  often  with  Issetibbeha,  following  on 
his  mule  the  course  of  the  fox  or  the  cat  beside  Issetibbeha's 
mare;  he  knew  it  as  well  as  did  the  men  who  would  pursue 
him.  He  saw  them  for  the  first  time  shortly  before  sunset  of 
the  second  day.  He  had  run  thirty  miles  then,  up  the  creek 
bottom,  before  doubling  back;  lying  in  a  pawpaw  thicket 
he  saw  the  pursuit  for  the  first  time.  There  were  two  of 
them,  in  shirts  and  straw  hats,  carrying  their  neatly  rolled 
trousers  under  their  arms,  and  they  had  no  weapons.  They 
were  middle-aged,  paunchy,  and  they  could  not  have  moved 


332  The  Wilderness 

very  fast  anyway;  it  would  be  twelve  hours  before  they 
could  return  to  where  he  lay  watching  them.  "So  I  will  have 
until  midnight  to  rest,"  he  said.  He  was  near  enough  to  the 
plantation  to  smell  the  cooking  fires,  and  he  thought  how 
he  ought  to  be  hungry,  since  he  had  not  eaten  in  thirty 
hours.  "But  it  is  more  important  to  rest,"  he  told  himself. 
He  continued  to  tell  himself  that,  lying  in  the  pawpaw 
thicket,  because  the  effort  of  resting,  the  need  and  the  haste 
to  rest,  made  his  heart  thud  the  same  as  the  running  had 
done.  It  was  as  though  he  had  forgot  how  to  rest,  as  though 
the  six  hours  were  not  long  enough  to  do  it  in,  to  remember 
again  how  to  do  it. 

As  soon  as  dark  came  he  moved  again.  lie  had  thought 
to  keep  going  steadily  and  quietly  through  the  night,  since 
there  was  nowhere  for  him  to  go,  but  as  soon  as  he  moved 
he  began  to  run  at  top  speed,  breasting  his  panting  chest,  his 
broad-flaring  nostrils  through  the  choked  and  whipping  dark- 
ness. He  ran  for  an  hour,  lost  by  then,  without  direction, 
when  suddenly  he  stopped,  and  after  a  time  his  thudding 
heart  unraveled  from  the  sound  of  the  drums.  By  the  sound 
they  were  not  two  miles  away;  he  followed  the  sound  until 
he  could  smell  the  smudge  fire  and  taste  the  acrid  smoke. 
When  he  stood  among  them  the  drums  did  not  cease;  only 
the  headman  came  to  him  where  he  stood  in  the  drifting 
smudge,  panting,  his  nostrils  flaring  and  pulsing,  the  hushed 
glare  of  his  ceaseless  eyeballs  in  his  mud-daubed  face  as 
though  they  were  worked  from  lungs. 

"We  have  expected  thee,"  the  headman  said.  "Go,  now." 

"Go?" 

"Eat,  and  go.  The  dead  may  not  consort  with  the  living; 
thou  knowest  that." 

"Yao.  I  know  that."  They  did  not  look  at  one  another. 
The  drums  had  not  ceased. 

"Wilt  thou  eat?"  the  headman  said. 


Red  Leaves  333 

"I  am  not  hungry.  I  caught  a  rabbit  this  afternoon,  and 
ate  while  I  lay  hidden/' 

"Take  some  cooked  meat  with  thee,  then." 

He  accepted  the  cooked  meat,  wrapped  in  leaves,  and 
entered  the  creek  bottom  again;  after  a  while  the  sound  of 
the  drums  ceased.  He  walked  steadily  until  daybreak.  "I 
have  twelve  hours,"  he  said.  "Maybe  more,  since  the  trail 
was  followed  by  night."  He  squatted  and  ate  the  meat  and 
wiped  his  hands  on  his  thighs.  Then  he  rose  and  removed 
the  dungaree  pants  and  squatted  again  beside  a  slough  and 
coated  himself  with  mud — face,  arms,  body  and  legs — and 
squatted  again,  clasping  his  knees,  his  head  bowed.  When  it 
was  light  enough  to  see,  he  moved  back  into  the  swamp  and 
squatted  again  and  went  to  sleep  so.  He  did  not  dream  at  all. 
It  was  well  that  he  moved,  for,  waking  suddenly  in  broad 
daylight  and  the  high  sun,  he  saw  the  two  Indians.  They 
still  carried  their  neatly  rolled  trousers;  they  stood  opposite 
the  place  where  he  lay  hidden,  paunchy,  thick,  soft-looking, 
a  little  ludicrous  in  their  straw  hats  and  shirt  tails. 

"This  is  wearying  work,"  one  said. 

"I'd  rather  be  at  home  in  the  shade  myself,"  the  other  said. 
"But  there  is  the  Man  waiting  at  the  door  to  the  earth." 

"Yao."  They  looked  quietly  about;  stooping,  one  of  them 
removed  from  his  shirt  tail  a  clot  of  cockleburs.  "Damn  that 
Negro,"  he  said. 

"Yao.  When  have  they  ever  been  anything  but  a  trial  and 
a  care  to  us?" 

In  the  early  afternoon,  from  the  top  of  a  tree,  the  Negro 
looked  down  into  the  plantation.  He  could  see  Issetibbeha's 
body  in  a  hammock  between  the  two  trees  where  the  horse 
and  the  dog  were  tethered,  and  the  concourse  about  the 
steamboat  was  filled  with  wagons  and  horses  and  mules, 
with  carts  and  saddle-horses,  while  in  bright  clumps  the 
women  and  the  smaller  children  and  the  old  men  squatted 


334  The  Wilderness 

about  the  long  trench  where  the  smoke  from  the  barbecuing 
meat  blew  slow  and  thick.  The  men  and  the  big  boys  would 
all  be  down  there  in  the  creek  bottom  behind  him,  on  the 
trail,  their  Sunday  clothes  rolled  carefully  up  and  wedged 
into  tree  crotches.  There  was  a  clump  of  men  near  the  door 
to  the  house,  to  the  saloon  of  the  steamboat,  though,  and  he 
watched  them,  and  after  a  while  he  saw  them  bring  Moke- 
tubbe  out  in  a  litter  made  of  buckskin  and  persimmon  poles; 
high  hidden  in  his  leafed  nook  the  Negro,  the  quarry,  looked 
quietly  down  upon  his  irrevocable  doom  with  an  expression 
as  profound  as  Moketubbe's  own.  "Yao,"  he  said  quietly. 
"He  will  go  then.  That  man  whose  body  has  been  dead  for 
fifteen  years,  he  will  go  also." 

In  the  middle  of  the  afternoon  he  came  face  to  face  with 
an  Indian.  They  were  both  on  a  footlog  across  a  slough — 
the  Negro  gaunt,  lean,  hard,  tireless  and  desperate;  the 
Indian  thick,  soft-looking,  the  apparent  embodiment  of  the 
ultimate  and  the  supreme  reluctance  and  inertia.  The  Indian 
made  no  move,  no  sound;  he  stood  on  the  log  and  watched 
the  Negro  plunge  into  the  slough  and  swim  ashore  and  crash 
away  into  the  undergrowth. 

Just  before  sunset  he  lay  behind  a  down  log.  Up  the  log 
in  slow  procession  moved  a  line  of  ants.  He  caught  them  and 
ate  them  slowly,  with  a  kind  of  detachment,  like  that  of  a 
dinner  guest  eating  salted  nuts  from  a  dish.  They  too  had  a 
salt  taste,  engendering  a  salivary  reaction  out  of  all  propor- 
tion. He  ate  them  slowly,  watching  the  unbroken  line  move 
up  the  log  and  into  oblivious  doom  with  a  steady  and  terrific 
undeviation.  He  had  eaten  nothing  else  all  day;  in  his  caked 
mud  mask  his  eyes  rolled  in  reddened  rims.  At  sunset,  creep- 
ing along  the  creek  bank  toward  where  he  had  spotted  a 
frog,  a  cottonmouth  moccasin  slashed  him  suddenly  across 
the  forearm  with  a  thick,  sluggish  blow.  It  struck  clumsily, 
leaving  two  long  slashes  across  his  arm  like  two  razor  slashes, 


Red  Leaves  335 

and  half  sprawled  with  its  own  momentum  and  rage,  it  ap- 
peared for  the  moment  utterly  helpless  with  its  own  awk- 
wardness and  choleric  anger.  "Ole,  grandfather,"  the  Negro 
said.  He  touched  its  head  and  watched  it  slash  him  again 
across  his  arm,  and  again,  with  thick,  raking,  awkward 
blows.  "It's  that  I  do  not  wish  to  die,"  he  said.  Then  he  said 
it  again — "It's  that  I  do  not  wish  to  die" — in  a  quiet  tone, 
of  slow  and  low  amaze,  as  though  it  were  something  that, 
until  the  words  had  said  themselves,  he  found  that  he  had  not 
known,  or  had  not  known  the  depth  and  extent  of  his  desire. 


V 

MOKETUBBE  TOOK  the  slippers  with  him.  He  could  not  wear 
them  very  long  while  in  motion,  not  even  in  the  litter  where 
he  was  slung  reclining,  so  they  rested  upon  a  square  of 
fawnskin  upon  his  lap — the  cracked,  frail  slippers  a  little 
shapeless  now,  with  their  scaled  patent-leather  surfaces  and 
buckleless  tongues  and  scarlet  heels,  lying  upon  the  supine 
obese  shape  just  barely  alive,  carried  through  swamp  and 
brier  by  swinging  relays  of  men  who  bore  steadily  all  day 
long  the  crime  and  its  object,  on  the  business  of  the  slain. 
To  Moketubbe  it  must  have  been  as  though,  himself  immor- 
tal, he  were  being  carried  rapidly  through  hell  by  doomed 
spirits  which,  alive,  had  contemplated  his  disaster,  and,  dead, 
were  oblivious  partners  to  his  damnation. 

After  resting  for  a  while,  the  litter  propped  in  the  center 
of  the  squatting  circle  and  Moketubbe  motionless  in  it,  with 
closed  eyes  and  his  face  at  once  peaceful  for  the  instant  and 
filled  with  inescapable  foreknowledge,  he  could  wear  the 
slippers  for  a  while.  The  stripling  put  them  on  him,  forcing 
his  big,  tender,  dropsical  feet  into  them;  whereupon  into  his 
face  came  again  that  expression  tragic,  passive  and  pro- 
foundly attentive,  which  dyspeptics  wear.  Then  they  went 


336  The  Wilderness 

on.  He  made  no  move,  no  sound,  inert  in  the  rhythmic  litter 
out  of  some  reserve  of  inertia,  or  maybe  of  some  kingly 
virtue  such  as  courage  or  fortitude.  After  a  time  they  set  the 
litter  down  and  looked  at  him,  at  the  yellow  face  like  that 
of  an  idol,  beaded  over  with  sweat.  Then  Three  Basket  or 
Had-Two-Fathers  would  say:  "Take  them  off.  Honor  has 
been  served/'  They  would  remove  the  shoes.  Moketubbe's 
face  would  not  alter,  but  only  then  would  his  breathing  be- 
come perceptible,  going  in  and  out  of  his  pale  lips  with  a 
faint  ah-ah-ah  sound,  and  they  would  squat  again  while  the 
couriers  and  the  runners  came  up. 

"Not  yet?" 

"Not  yet.  He  is  going  east.  By  sunset  he  will  reach  Mouth 
of  Tippah.  Then  he  will  turn  back.  We  may  take  him 


tomorrow." 


"Let  us  hope  so.  It  will  not  be  too  soon." 
"Yao.  It  has  been  three  days  now." 
"When  Doom  died,  it  took  only  three  days." 
"But  that  was  an  old  man.  This  one  is  young." 
"Yao.  A  good  race.  If  he  is  taken  tomorrow,  I  will  win  a 
horse." 

"May  you  win  it." 
"Yao.  This  work  is  not  pleasant." 

That  was  the  day  on  which  the  food  gave  out  at  the  plan- 
tation. The  guests  returned  home  and  came  back  the  next 
day  with  more  food,  enough  for  a  week  longer.  On  that  day 
Issetibbeha  began  to  smell;  they  could  smell  him  for  a  long 
way  up  and  down  the  bottom  when  it  got  hot  toward  noon 
and  the  wind  blew.  But  they  didn't  capture  the  Negro  on 
that  day,  nor  on  the  next.  It  was  about  dusk  on  the  sixth 
day  when  the  couriers  came  up  to  the  litter;  they  had  found 
blood.  "He  has  injured  himself." 

"Not  bad,  I  hope,"  Basket  said.  "We  cannot  send  with 
Issetibbeha  one  who  will  be  of  no  service  to  him." 


Red  Leaves  337 

"Nor  whom  Issetibbeha  himself  will  have  to  nurse  and 
care  for/'  Berry  said. 

"We  do  not  know,"  the  courier  said.  "He  has  hidden  him- 
self. He  has  crept  back  into  the  swamp.  We  have  left 
pickets." 

They  trotted  with  the  litter  now.  The  place  where  the 
Negro  had  crept  into  the  swamp  was  an  hour  away.  In  the 
hurry  and  excitement  they  had  forgotten  that  Moketubbe 
still  wore  the  slippeis;  when  they  reached  the  place  Moke- 
tubbe had  fainted.  They  removed  the  slippers  and  brought 
him  to. 

With  dark,  they  formed  a  circle  about  the  swamp.  They 
squatted,  clouded  over  with  gnats  and  mosquitoes;  the  eve- 
ning star  burned  low  and  close  down  the  west,  and  the 
constellations  began  to  wheel  overhead.  "We  will  give  him 
time,"  they  said.  "Tomorrow  is  just  another  name  for  today." 

"Yao.  Let  him  have  time."  Then  they  ceased,  and  gazed 
as  one  into  the  darkness  where  the  swamp  lay.  After  a  while 
the  noise  ceased,  and  soon  the  courier  came  out  of  the 
darkness. 

"He  tried  to  break  out." 

"But  you  turned  him  back?" 

"He  turned  back.  We  feared  for  a  moment,  the  three  of 
us.  We  could  smell  him  creeping  in  the  darkness,  and  we 
could  smell  something  else,  which  we  did  not  know.  That 
was  why  we  feared,  until  he  told  us.  He  said  to  slay  him 
there,  since  it  would  be  dark  and  he  would  not  have  to  see 
the  face  when  it  came.  But  it  was  not  that  which  we  smelled; 
he  told  us  what  it  was.  A  snake  had  struck  him.  That  was 
two  days  ago.  The  arm  swelled,  and  it  smelled  bad.  But  it 
was  not  that  which  we  smelled  then,  because  the  swelling 
had  gone  down  and  his  arm  was  no  larger  than  that  of  a 
child.  He  showed  us.  We  felt  the  arm,  all  of  us  did;  it  was 
no  larger  than  that  of  a  child.  He  said  to  give  him  a  hatchet 


338  The  Wilderness 

so  he  could  chop  the  arm  off.  But  tomorrow  is  today  also." 

"Yao.  Tomorrow  is  today." 

"We  feared  for  a  while.  Then  he  went  back  into  the 
swamp." 

"That  is  good." 

"Yao.  We  feared.  Shall  I  tell  the  Man?" 

"I  will  see,"  Basket  said.  He  went  away.  The  courier 
squatted,  telling  again  about  the  Negro.  Basket  returned. 
"The  Man  says  that  it  is  good.  Return  to  your  post." 

The  courier  crept  away.  They  squatted  about  the  litter; 
now  and  then  they  slept.  Sometime  after  midnight  the 
Negro  waked  them.  He  began  to  shout  and  talk  to  himself, 
his  voice  coming  sharp  and  sudden  out  of  the  darkness, 
then  he  fell  silent.  Dawn  came;  a  white  crane  flapped  slowly 
across  the  jonquil  sky.  Basket  was  awake.  "Let  us  go  now," 
he  said.  "It  is  today." 

Two  Indians  entered  the  swamp,  their  movements  noisy. 
Before  they  reached  the  Negro  they  stopped,  because  he 
began  to  sing.  They  could  see  him,  naked  and  mud-caked, 
sitting  on  a  log,  singing.  They  squatted  silently  a  short  dis- 
tance away,  until  he  finished.  He  was  chanting  something 
in  his  own  language,  his  face  lifted  to  the  rising  sun.  His 
voice  was  clear,  full,  with  a  quality  wild  and  sad.  "Let  him 
have  time,"  the  Indians  said,  squatting,  patient,  waiting.  He 
ceased  and  they  approached.  He  looked  back  and  up  at 
them  through  the  cracked  mud  mask.  His  eyes  were  blood- 
shot, his  lips  cracked  upon  his  square  short  teeth.  The  mask 
of  mud  appeared  to  be  loose  on  his  face,  as  if  he  might  have 
lost  flesh  since  he  put  it  there;  he  held  his  left  arm  close 
to  his  breast.  From  the  elbow  down  it  was  caked  and  shape- 
less with  black  mud.  They  could  smell  him,  a  rank  smell. 
He  watched  them  quietly  until  one  touched  him  on  the 
arm.  "Come,"  the  Indian  said.  "You  ran  well.  Do  not  be 
ashamed." 


Red  Leaves  339 

VI 

As  THEY  NEARED  the  plantation  in  the  tainted  bright  morn- 
ing, the  Negro's  eyes  began  to  roll  a  little,  like  those  of  a 
horse.  The  smoke  from  the  cooking  pit  blew  low  along  the 
earth  and  upon  the  squatting  and  waiting  guests  about  the 
yard  and  upon  the  steamboat  deck,  in  their  bright,  stiff, 
harsh  finery;  the  women,  the  children,  the  old  men.  They 
had  sent  couriers  along  the  bottom,  and  another  on  ahead, 
and  Issetibbeha's  body  had  already  been  removed  to  where 
the  grave  waited,  along  with  the  horse  and  the  dog,  though 
they  could  still  smell  him  in  death  about  the  house  where  he 
had  lived  in  life.  The  guests  were  beginning  to  move  toward 
the  grave  when  the  bearers  of  Moketubbe's  litter  mounted 
the  slope. 

The  Negro  was  the  tallest  there,  his  high,  close,  mud- 
caked  head  looming  above  them  all.  He  was  breathing  hard, 
as  though  the  desperate  effort  of  the  six  suspended  and 
desperate  days  had  catapulted  upon  him  at  once;  although 
they  walked  slowly,  his  naked  scarred  chest  rose  and  fell 
above  the  close-clutched  left  arm.  He  looked  this  way  and 
that  continuously,  as  if  he  were  not  seeing,  as  though  sight 
never  quite  caught  up  with  the  looking.  His  mouth  was  open 
a  little  upon  his  big  white  teeth;  he  began  to  pant.  The 
already  moving  guests  halted,  pausing,  looking  back,  some 
with  pieces  of  meat  in  their  hands,  as  the  Negro  looked 
about  at  their  faces  with  his  wild,  restrained,  unceasing  eyes. 

"Will  you  eat  first?"  Basket  said.  He  had  to  say  it  twice. 

"Yes,"  the  Negro  said.  "That's  it.  I  want  to  eat." 

The  throng  had  begun  to  press  back  toward  the  center; 
the  word  passed  to  the  outermost:  "He  will  eat  first." 

They  reached  the  steamboat.  "Sit  down,"  Basket  said. 
The  Negro  sat  on  the  edge  of  the  deck.  He  was  still  panting, 
his  chest  rising  and  falling,  his  head  ceaseless  with  its  white 


34°  Tbe  Wilderness 

eyeballs,  turning  from  side  to  side.  It  was  as  if  the  inability 
to  see  came  from  within,  from  hopelessness,  not  from 
absence  of  vision.  They  brought  food  and  watched  quietly 
as  he  tried  to  eat  it.  He  put  the  food  into  his  mouth  and 
chewed  it,  but  chewing,  the  half-masticated  matter  began 
to  emerge  from  the  corners  of  his  mouth  and  to  drool  down 
his  chin,  onto  his  chest,  and  after  a  while  he  stopped  chewing 
and  sat  there,  naked,  covered  with  dried  mud,  the  plate  on 
his  knees,  and  his  mouth  filled  with  a  mass  of  chewed  food, 
open,  his  eyes  wide  and  unceasing,  panting  and  panting. 
They  watched  him,  patient,  implacable,  waiting. 

"Come,"  Basket  said  at  last. 

"It's  water  I  want,"  the  Negro  said.  "I  want  water." 

The  well  was  a  little  way  down  the  slope  toward  the 
quarters.  The  slope  lay  dappled  with  the  shadows  of  noon, 
of  that  peaceful  hour  when,  Issetibbeha  napping  in  his  chair 
and  waiting  for  the  noon  meal  and  the  long  afternoon  to 
sleep  in,  the  Negro,  the  body  servant,  would  be  free.  He 
would  sit  in  the  kitchen  door  then,  talking  with  the  women 
who  prepared  the  food.  Beyond  the  kitchen  the  lane  between 
the  quarters  would  be  quiet,  peaceful,  with  the  women  talk- 
ing to  one  another  across  the  lane  and  the  smoke  of  the 
dinner  fires  blowing  upon  the  pickaninnies  like  ebony  toys 
in  the  dust. 

"Come,"  Basket  said. 

The  Negro  walked  among  them,  taller  than  any.  The 
guests  were  moving  on  toward  where  Issetibbeha  and  the 
horse  and  the  dog  waited.  The  Negro  walked  with  his  high 
ceaseless  head,  his  panting  chest.  "Come,"  Basket  said.  "You 
wanted  water." 

"Yes,"  the  Negro  said.  "Y£s."  He  looked  back  at  the 
house,  then  down  to  the  quarters,  where  today  no  fire 
burned,  no  face  showed  in  any  door,  no  pickaninny  in  the 
dust,  panting.  "It  struck  me  here,  raking  me  across  this  arm; 
once,  twice,  three  times.  I  said,  'Ole,  Grandfather.' " 


Red  Leaves  341 

"Come  now,"  Basket  said.  The  Negro  was  still  going 
through  the  motion  of  walking,  his  knee  action  high,  his 
head  high,  as  though  he  were  on  a  treadmill.  His  eyeballs 
had  a  wild,  restrained  glare,  like  those  of  a  horse.  uYou 
wanted  water,"  Basket  said.  "Here  it  is." 

There  was  a  gourd  in  the  well.  They  dipped  it  full  and 
gave  it  to  the  Negro,  and  they  watched  him  try  to  drink. 
His  eyes  had  not  ceased  as  he  tilted  the  gourd  slowly  against 
his  caked  face.  They  could  watch  his  throat  working  and  the 
bright  water  cascading  from  either  side  of  the  gourd,  down 
his  chin  and  breast.  Then  the  water  stopped.  "Come,"  Basket 
said. 

"Wait,"  the  Negro  said.  He  dipped  the  gourd  again  and 
tilted  it  against  his  face,  beneath  his  ceaseless  eyes.  Again 
they  watched  his  throat  working  and  the  unswallowed  water 
sheathing  broken  and  myriad  down  his  chin,  channeling  his 
caked  chest.  They  waited,  patient,  grave,  decorous,  im- 
placable; clansman  and  guest  and  kin.  Then  the  water  ceased, 
though  still  the  empty  gourd  tilted  higher  and  higher,  and 
still  his  black  throat  aped  the  vain  motion  of  his  frustrated 
swallowing.  A  piece  of  water-loosened  mud  carried  away 
from  his  chest  and  broke  at  his  muddy  feet,  and  in  the  empty 
gourd  they  could  hear  his  breath:  ah-ah-ah. 

"Come,"  Basket  said,  taking  the  gourd  from  the  Negro 
and  hanging  it  back  in  the  well. 


A  Justice 


i 

UNTIL  GRANDFATHER  DIED,  we  would  go  out  to  the  farm 
every  Saturday  afternoon.  We  would  leave  home  right  after 
dinner  in  the  surrey,  I  in  front  with  Roskus,  and  Grand- 
father and  Caddy  and  Jason  in  the  back.  Grandfather  and 
Roskus  would  talk,  with  the  horses  going  fast,  because  it  was 
the  best  team  in  the  county.  They  would  carry  the  surrey 
fast  along  the  levels  and  up  some  of  the  hills  even.  But  this 
was  in  north  Mississippi,  and  on  some  of  the  hills  Roskus 
and  I  could  smell  Grandfather's  cigar. 

The  farm  was  four  miles  away.  There  was  a  long,  low 
house  in  the  grove,  not  painted  but  kept  whole  and  sound  by 
a  clever  carpenter  from  the  quarters  named  Sam  Fathers, 
and  behind  it  the  barns  and  smokehouses,  and  further  still, 
the  quarters  themselves,  also  kept  whole  and  sound  by  Sam 
Fathers.  He  did  nothing  else,  and  they  said  he  was  almost  a 
hundred  years  old.  He  lived  with  the  Negroes  and  they — 
the  white  people;  the  Negroes  called  him  a  blue-gum — 
called  him  a  Negro.  But  he  wasn't  a  Negro.  That's  what  I'm 
going  to  tell  about. 

When  we  got  there,  Mr.  Stokes,  the  manager,  would  send 
a  Negro  boy  with  Caddy  and  Jason  to  the  creek  to  fish, 
because  Caddy  was  a  girl  and  Jason  was  too  little,  but  I 
wouldn't  go  with  them.  I  would  go  to  Sam  Fathers'  shop, 

343 


344  The  Wilderness 

where  he  would  be  making  breast-yokes  or  wagon  wheels, 
and  I  would  always  bring  him  some  tobacco.  Then  he  would 
stop  working  and  he  would  fill  his  pipe — he  made  them  him- 
self, out  of  creek  clay  with  a  reed  stem — and  he  would  tell 
me  about  the  old  days.  He  talked  like  a  nigger — that  is,  he 
said  his  words  like  niggers  do,  but  he  didn't  say  the  same 
words — and  his  hair  was  nigger  hair.  But  his  skin  wasn't 
quite  the  color  of  a  light  nigger  and  his  nose  and  his  mouth 
and  chin  were  not  nigger  nose  and  mouth  and  chin.  And  his 
shape  was  not  like  the  shape  of  a  nigger  when  he  gets  old. 
He  was  straight  in  the  back,  not  tall,  a  little  broad,  and  his 
face  was  still  all  the  time,  like  he  might  be  somewhere  else 
all  the  while  he  was  working  or  when  people,  even  white 
people,  talked  to  him,  or  while  he  talked  to  me.  It  was  just 
the  same  all  the  time,  like  he  might  be  away  up  on  a  roof 
by  himself,  driving  nails.  Sometimes  he  would  quit  work 
with  something  half-finished  on  the  bench,  and  sit  down  and 
smoke.  And  he  wouldn't  jump  up  and  go  back  to  work  when 
Mr.  Stokes  or  even  Grandfather  came  along. 

So  I  would  give  him  the  tobacco  and  he  would  stop  work 
and  sit  down  and  fill  his  pipe  and  talk  to  me. 

"These  niggers,"  he  said.  uThey  call  me  Uncle  Blue-Gum. 
And  the  white  folks,  they  call  me  Sam  Fathers." 

*  Isn't  that  your  name?"  I  said. 

"No.  Not  in  the  old  days.  I  remember.  I  remember  how  I 
never  saw  but  one  white  man  until  I  was  a  boy  big  as  you 
are;  a  whisky  trader  that  came  every  summer  to  the  Planta- 
tion. It  was  the  Man  himself  that  named  me.  He  didn't  name 
me  Sam  Fathers,  though." 

"The  Man?"  I  said. 

"He  owned  the  Plantation,  the  Negroes,  my  mammy  too, 
He  owned  all  the  land  that  I  knew  of  until  I  was  grown.  He 
was  a  Choctaw  chief.  He  sold  my  mammy  to  your  great- 
grandpappy.  He  said  I  didn't  have  to  go  unless  I  wanted  to, 


A  Justice  345 

because  I  was  a  warrior  too  then.  He  was  the  one  who 
named  me  Had-Two-Fathers." 

"Had-Two-Fathers? "  I  said.  "That's  not  a  name.  That's 
not  anything." 

"It  was  my  name  once.  Listen." 

II 

THIS  is  HOW  Herman  Basket  told  it  when  I  was  big  enough 
to  hear  talk.  He  said  that  when  Doom  came  back  from  New 
Orleans,  he  brought  this  woman  with  him.  He  brought  six 
black  people,  though  Herman  Basket  said  they  already  had 
more  black  people  in  the  Plantation  than  they  could  find  use 
for.  Sometimes  they  would  run  the  black  men  with  dogs, 
like  you  would  a  fox  or  a  cat  or  a  coon.  And  then  Doom 
brought  six  more  when  he  came  home  from  New  Orleans. 
He  said  he  won  them  on  the  steamboat,  and  so  he  had  to 
take  them.  He  got  off  the  steamboat  with  the  six  black 
people,  Herman  Basket  said,  and  a  big  box  in  which  some- 
thing was  alive,  and  the  gold  box  of  New  Orleans  salt  about 
the  size  of  a  gold  watch.  And  Herman  Basket  told  how 
Doom  took  a  puppy  out  of  the  box  in  which  something  was 
alive,  and  how  he  made  a  bullet  of  bread  and  a  pinch  of  the 
salt  in  the  gold  box,  and  put  the  bullet  into  the  puppy  and 
the  puppy  died. 

That  was  the  kind  of  a  man  that  Doom  was,  Herman 
Basket  said.  He  told  how,  when  Doom  got  off  the  steamboat 
that  night,  he  wore  a  coat  with  gold  all  over  it,  and  he  had 
three  gold  watches,  but  Herman  Basket  said  that  even  after 
seven  years,  Doom's  eyes  had  not  changed.  He  said  that 
Doom's  eyes  were  just  the  same  as  before  he  went  away, 
before  his  name  was  Doom,  and  he  and  Herman  Basket  and 
my  pappy  were  sleeping  on  the  same  pallet  and  talking  at 
night,  as  boys  will. 


346  The  Wilderness 

Doom's  name  was  Ikkemotubbe  then,  and  he  was  not  born 
to  be  the  Man,  because  Doom's  mother's  brother  was  the 
Man,  and  the  Man  had  a  son  of  his  own,  as  well  as  a  brother. 
But  even  then,  and  Doom  no  bigger  than  you  are,  Herman 
Basket  said  that  sometimes  the  Man  would  look  at  Doom  and 
he  would  say:  "O  Sister's  Son,  your  eye  is  a  bad  eye,  like 
the  eye  of  a  bad  horse." 

So  the  Man  was  not  sorry  when  Doom  got  to  be  a  young 
man  and  said  that  he  would  go  to  New  Orleans,  Herman 
Basket  said.  The  Man  was  getting  old  then.  He  used  to  like 
to  play  mumble-peg  and  to  pitch  horseshoes  both,  but  now 
he  just  liked  mumble-peg.  So  he  was  not  sorry  when  Doom 
went  away,  though  he  didn't  forget  about  Doom.  Herman 
Basket  said  that  each  summer  when  the  whisky-trader  came, 
the  Man  would  ask  him  about  Doom.  uHe  calls  himself 
David  Callicoat  now,"  the  Man  would  say.  "But  his  name 
is  Ikkemotubbe.  You  haven't  heard  maybe  of  a  David  Calli- 
coat getting  drowned  in  the  Big  River,  or  killed  in  the  white 
man's  fight  at  New  Orleans?" 

But  Herman  Basket  said  they  didn't  hear  from  Doom  at  all 
until  he  had  been  gone  seven  years.  Then  one  day  Herman 
Basket  and  my  pappy  got  a  written  stick  from  Doom  to  meet 
him  at  the  Big  River.  Because  the  steamboat  didn't  come  up 
our  river  any  more  then.  The  steamboat  was  still  in  our  river, 
but  it  didn't  go  anywhere  any  more.  Herman  Basket  told 
how  one  day  during  the  high  water,  about  three  years  after 
Doom  went  away,  the  steamboat  came  and  crawled  up  on 
a  sand-bar  and  died. 

That  was  how  Doom  got  his  second  name,  the  one  before 
Doom.  Herman  Basket  told  how  four  times  a  year  the  steam- 
boat would  come  up  our  river,  and  how  the  People  would  go 
to  the  river  and  camp  and  wait  to  see  the  steamboat  pass,  and 
he  said  that  the  white  man  who  told  the  steamboat  where  to 
swim  was  named  David  Callicoat.  So  when  Doom  told  Her- 


A  Justice  347 

man  Basket  and  pappy  that  he  was  going  to  New  Orleans, 
he  said,  "And  I'll  tell  you  something  else.  From  now  on,  my 
name  is  not  Ikkemotubbe.  It's  David  Callicoat.  And  some 
day  I'm  going  to  own  a  steamboat,  too."  That  was  the  kind 
of  man  that  Doom  was,  Herman  Basket  said. 

So  after  seven  years  he  sent  them  the  written  stick  and 
Herman  Basket  and  pappy  took  the  wagon  and  went  to  meet 
Doom  at  the  Big  River,  and  Doom  got  off  the  steamboat  with 
the  six  black  people.  "I  won  them  on  the  steamboat,"  Doom 
said.  "You  and  Craw-ford  (my  pappy's  name  was  Crawfish- 
ford,  but  usually  it  was  Craw-ford)  can  divide  them." 

"I  don't  want  them,"  Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  said. 

"Then  Herman  can  have  them  all,"  Doom  said. 

"I  don't  want  them  either,"  Herman  Basket  said. 

"All  right,"  Doom  said.  Then  Herman  Basket  said  he 
asked  Doom  if  his  name  was  still  David  Callicoat,  but  in- 
stead of  answering,  Doom  told  one  of  the  black  people  some- 
thing in  the  white  man's  talk,  and  the  black  man  lit  a  pine 
knot.  Then  Herman  Basket  said  they  were  watching  Doom 
take  the  puppy  from  the  box  and  make  the  bullet  of  bread 
and  the  New  Orleans  salt  which  Doom  had  in  the  little  gold 
box,  when  he  said  that  pappy  said: 

"I  believe  you  said  that  Herman  and  I  were  to  divide  these 
black  people." 

Then  Herman  Basket  said  he  saw  that  one  of  the  black 
people  was  a  woman. 

"You  and  Herman  don't  want  them,"  Doom  said. 

"I  wasn't  thinking  when  I  said  that,"  pappy  said.  "I  will 
take  the  lot  with  the  woman  in  it.  Herman  can  have  the 
other  three." 

"I  don't  want  them,"  Herman  Basket  said. 

"You  can  have  four,  then,"  pappy  said.  "I  will  take  the 
woman  and  one  other." 

"I  don't  want  them,"  Herman  Basket  said. 


348  The  Wilderness 

"I  will  take  only  the  woman,"  pappy  said.  "You  can  have 
the  other  five." 

"I  don't  want  them,"  Herman  Basket  said. 

"You  don't  want  them,  either/'  Doom  said  to  pappy.  "You 
said  so  yourself." 

Then  Herman  Basket  said  that  the  puppy  was  dead.  "You 
didn't  tell  us  your  new  name,"  he  said  to  Doom. 

"My  name  is  Doom  now,"  Doom  said.  "It  was  given  me  by 
a  French  chief  in  New  Orleans.  In  French  talking,  Doo-um; 
in  our  talking,  Doom." 

"What  does  it  mean?"  Herman  Basket  said. 

He  said  how  Doom  looked  at  him  for  a  while.  "It  means 
the  Man,"  Doom  said. 

Herman  Basket  told  how  they  thought  about  that.  He  said 
they  stood  there  in  the  dark,  with  the  other  puppies  in  the 
box,  the  ones  that  Doom  hadn't  used,  whimpering  and  scuf- 
fing, and  the  light  of  the  pine  knot  shining  on  the  eyeballs  of 
the  black  people  and  on  Doom's  gold  coat  and  on  the  puppy 
that  had  died. 

"You  cannot  be  the  Man,"  Herman  Basket  said.  "You  are 
only  on  the  sister's  side.  And  the  Man  has  a  brother  and  a 
son." 

"That's  right,"  Doom  said.  "But  if  I  were  the  Man,  I 
would  give  Craw-ford  those  black  people.  I  would  give 
Herman  something,  too.  For  every  black  man  I  gave  Craw- 
ford, I  would  give  Herman  a  horse,  if  I  were  the  Man." 

"Craw-ford  only  wants  this  woman,"  Herman  Basket  said. 

"I  would  give  Herman  six  horses,  anyway,"  Doom  said. 
"But  maybe  the  Man  has  already  given  Herman  a  horse." 

"No,"  Herman  Basket  said.  "My  ghost  is  still  walking." 

It  took  them  three  days  to  reach  the  Plantation.  They 
camped  on  the  road  at  night.  Herman  Basket  said  that  they 
did  not  talk. 

They  reached  the  Plantation  on  the  third  day.  He  said 


4  Justice  349 

that  the  Man  was  not  very  glad  to  see  Doom,  even  though 
Doom  brought  a  present  of  candy  for  the  Man's  son.  Doom 
had  something  for  all  his  kinsfolk,  even  for  the  Man's 
srother.  The  Man's  brother  lived  by  himself  in  a  cabin  by 
the  creek.  His  name  was  Sometimes- Wakeup.  Sometimes 
the  People  took  him  food.  The  rest  of  the  time  they  didn't 
see  him.  Herman  Basket  told  how  he  and  pappy  went  with 
Doom  to  visit  Sometimes-Wakeup  in  his  cabin.  It  was  at 
light,  and  Doom  told  Herman  Basket  to  close  the  door. 
Then  Doom  took  the  puppy  from  pappy  and  set  it  on  the 
floor  and  made  a  bullet  of  bread  and  the  New  Orleans  salt 
for  Sometimes-Wakeup  to  see  how  it  worked.  When  they 
[eft,  Herman  Basket  said  how  Sometimes-Wakeup  burned  a 
stick  and  covered  his  head  with  the  blanket. 

That  was  the  first  night  that  Doom  was  at  home.  On  the 
next  day  Herman  Basket  told  how  the  Man  began  to  act 
strange  at  his  food,  and  died  before  the  doctor  could  get  there 
and  burn  sticks.  When  the  Willow-Bearer  went  to  fetch  the 
Man's  son  to  be  the  Man,  they  found  that  he  had  acted 
strange  and  then  died  too. 

"Now  Sometimes-Wakeup  will  have  to  be  the  Man," 
pappy  said. 

So  the  Willow-Bearer  went  to  fetch  Sometimes-Wakeup 
to  come  and  be  the  Man.  The  Willow-Bearer  came  back 
soon.  "Sometimes-Wakeup  does  not  want  to  be  the  Man," 
the  Willow-Bearer  said.  "He  is  sitting  in  his  cabin  with  his 
head  in  his  blanket." 

"Then  Ikkemotubbe  will  have  to  be  the  Man,"  pappy 
said. 

So  Doom  was  the  Man.  But  Herman  Basket  said  that 
pappy's  ghost  would  not  be  easy.  Herman  Basket  said  he 
told  pappy  to  give  Doom  a  little  time.  "I  am  still  walking," 
Herman  Basket  said. 

"But  this  is  a  serious  matter  with  me,"  pappy  said. 


350  The  Wilderness 

He  said  that  at  last  pappy  went  to  Doom,  before  the  Man 
and  his  son  had  entered  the  earth,  before  the  eating  and 
the  horse-racing  were  over.  "What  woman?"  Doom  said. 

"You  said  that  when  you  were  the  Man,"  pappy  said. 
Herman  Basket  said  that  Doom  looked  at  pappy  but  that 
pappy  was  not  looking  at  Doom. 

"I  think  you  don't  trust  me,"  Doom  said.  Herman  Basket 
said  how  pappy  did  not  look  at  Doom.  "I  think  you  still 
believe  that  that  puppy  was  sick,"  Doom  said.  "Think 
about  it." 

Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  thought. 

"What  do  you  think  now?"  Doom  said. 

But  Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  still  did  not  look  at 
Doom.  "I  think  it  was  a  well  dog,"  pappy  said. 

Ill 

AT  LAST  the  eating  and  the  horse-racing  were  over  and  the 
Man  and  his  son  had  entered  the  earth.  Then  Doom  said, 
"Tomorrow  we  will  go  and  fetch  the  steamboat."  Herman 
Basket  told  how  Doom  had  been  talking  about  the  steam- 
boat ever  since  he  became  the  Man,  and  about  how  the 
House  was  not  big  enough.  So  that  evening  Doom  said,  "To- 
morrow we  will  go  and  fetch  the  steamboat  that  died  in  the 


river." 


Herman  Basket  said  how  the  steamboat  was  twelve  miles 
away,  and  that  it  could  not  even  swim  in  the  water.  So  the 
next  morning  there  was  no  one  in  the  Plantation  except 
Doom  and  the  black  people.  He  told  how  it  took  Doom  all 
that  day  to  find  the  People.  Doom  used  the  dogs,  and  he 
found  some  of  the  People  in  hollow  logs  in  the  creek  bottom. 
That  night  he  made  all  the  men  sleep  in  the  House.  He 
kept  the  dogs  in  the  House,  too. 

Herman  Basket  told  how  he  heard  Doom  and  pappy  talk- 
ing in  the  dark.  "I  don't  think  you  trust  me,"  Doom  said. 


A  Justice  351 

"I  trust  you,"  pappy  said. 

"That  is  what  I  would  advise,"  Doom  said. 

"I  wish  you  could  advise  that  to  my  ghost,"  pappy  said. 

The  next  morning  they  went  to  the  steamboat.  The 
women  and  the  black  people  walked.  The  men  rode  in  the 
wagons,  with  Doom  following  behind  with  the  dogs. 

The  steamboat  was  lying  on  its  side  on  the  sand-bar.  When 
they  came  to  it,  there  were  three  white  men  on  it.  "Now 
we  can  go  back  home,"  pappy  said. 

But  Doom  talked  to  the  white  men.  "Does  this  steamboat 
belong  to  you?"  Doom  said. 

"It  does  not  belong  to  you,"  the  white  men  said.  And 
though  they  had  guns,  Herman  Basket  said  they  did  not 
look  like  men  who  would  own  a  boat. 

"Shall  we  kill  them?"  he  said  to  Doom.  But  he  said  that 
Doom  was  still  talking  to  the  men  on  the  steamboat. 

"What  will  vou  take  for  it?"  Doom  said. 

j 

"What  will  you  give  for  it?"  the  white  men  said. 

"It  is  dead,"  Doom  said.  "It's  not  worth  much." 

"Will  you  give  ten  black  people?"  the  white  men  said. 

"All  right,"  Doom  said.  "Let  the  black  people  who  came 
with  me  from  the  Big  River  come  forward."  They  came 
forward,  the  five  men  and  the  woman.  "Let  four  more 
black  people  come  forward."  Four  more  came  forward. 
"You  are  now  to  eat  of  the  corn  of  those  white  men  yonder," 
Doom  said.  "May  it  nourish  you."  The  white  men  went 
away,  the  ten  black  people  following  them.  "Now,"  Doom 
said,  "let  us  make  the  steamboat  get  up  and  walk." 

Herman  Basket  said  that  he  and  pappy  did  not  go  into  the 
river  with  the  others,  because  pappy  said  to  go  aside  and 
talk.  They  went  aside.  Pappy  talked,  but  Herman  Basket 
said  that  he  said  he  did  not  think  it  was  right  to  kill  white 
men,  but  pappy  said  how  they  could  fill  the  white  men  with 
rocks  and  sink  them  in  the  river  and  nobody  would  find 


352  The  Wilderness 

them.  So  Herman  Basket  said  they  overtook  the  three  white 
men  and  the  ten  black  people,  then  they  turned  back  toward 
the  boat.  Just  before  they  came  to  the  steamboat,  pappy 
said  to  the  black  men:  "Go  on  to  the  Man.  Go  and  help 
make  the  steamboat  get  up  and  walk.  I  will  take  this  woman 
on  home." 

"This  woman  is  my  wife,"  one  of  the  black  men  said.  "I 
want  her  to  stay  with  me." 

"Do  you  want  to  be  arranged  in  the  river  with  rocks  in 
your  inside  too?"  pappy  said  to  the  black  man. 

"Do  you  want  to  be  arranged  in  the  river  yourself?"  the 
black  man  said  to  pappy.  "There  are  two  of  you,  and  nine 
of  us." 

Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  thought.  Then  pappy 
said,  "Let  us  go  to  the  steamboat  and  help  the  Man." 

They  went  to  the  steamboat.  But  Herman  Basket  said 
that  Doom  did  not  notice  the  ten  black  people  until  it  was 
time  to  return  to  the  Plantation.  Herman  Basket  told  how 
Doom  looked  at  the  black  people,  then  looked  at  pappy. 
"It  seems  that  the  white  men  did  not  want  these  black 
people,"  Doom  said. 

"So  it  seems,"  pappy  said. 

"The  white  men  went  away,  did  they?"  Doom  said. 

"So  it  seems,"  pappy  said. 

Herman  Basket  told  how  every  night  Doom  would  make 
all  the  men  sleep  in  the  House,  with  the  dogs  in  the  House 
too,  and  how  each  morning  they  would  return  to  the  steam- 
boat in  the  wagons.  The  wagons  would  not  hold  everybody, 
so  after  the  second  day  the  women  stayed  at  home.  But  it 
was  three  days  before  Doom  noticed  that  pappy  was  staying 
at  home  too.  Herman  Basket  said  that  the  woman's  husband 
may  have  told  Doom.  "Craw-ford  hurt  his  back  lifting  the 
steamboat/'  Herman  Basket  said  he  told  Doom.  "He  said 


A  Justice  353 

he  would  stay  at  the  Plantation  and  sit  with  his  feet  in  the 
Hot  Spring  so  that  the  sickness  in  his  back  could  return  to 
the  earth." 

"That  is  a  good  idea,"  Doom  said.  "He  has  been  doing 
this  for  three  days,  has  he?  Then  the  sickness  should  be  down 
in  his  legs  by  now." 

When  they  returned  to  the  Plantation  that  night,  Doom 
sent  for  pappy.  He  asked  pappy  if  the  sickness  had  moved. 
Pappy  said  how  the  sickness  moved  very  slow.  "You  must 
sit  in  the  Spring  more,"  Doom  said. 

"That  is  what  I  think,"  pappy  said. 

"Suppose  you  sit  in  the  Spring  at  night  too,"  Doom  said. 

"The  night  air  will  make  it  worse,"  pappy  said. 

"Not  with  a  fire  there,"  Doom  said.  "I  will  send  one  of 
the  black  people  with  you  to  keep  the  fire  burning." 

"Which  one  of  the  black  people?"  pappy  said. 

"The  husband  of  the  woman  which  I  won  on  the  steam- 
boat," Doom  said. 

"I  think  my  back  is  better,"  pappy  said. 

"Let  us  try  it,"  Doom  said. 

"I  know  my  back  is  better,"  pappy  said. 

"Let  us  try  it,  anyway,"  Doom  said.  Just  before  dark 
Doom  sent  four  of  the  People  to  fix  pappy  and  the  black 
man  at  the  Spring.  Herman  Basket  said  the  People  returned 
quickly.  He  said  that  as  they  entered  the  House,  pappy 
entered  also. 

"The  sickness  began  to  move  suddenly,"  pappy  said.  "It 
has  reached  my  feet  since  noon  today." 

"Do  you  think  it  will  be  gone  by  morning?"  Doom  said. 

"I  think  so,"  pappy  said. 

"Perhaps  you  had  better  sit  in  the  Spring  tonight  and 
make  sure,"  Doom  said. 

"I  know  it  will  be  gone  by  morning,"  pappy  said. 


354  The  Wilderness 

IV 

WHEN  IT  GOT  to  be  summer,  Herman  Basket  said  that  the 
steamboat  was  out  of  the  river  bottom.  It  had  taken  them 
five  months  to  get  it  out  of  the  bottom,  because  they  had  to 
cut  down  the  trees  to  make  a  path  for  it.  But  now  he  said 
the  steamboat  could  walk  faster  on  the  logs.  He  told  how 
pappy  helped.  Pappy  had  a  certain  place  on  one  of  the  ropes 
near  the  steamboat  that  nobody  was  allowed  to  take,  Herman 
Basket  said.  It  was  just  under  the  front  porch  of  the  steam- 
boat where  Doom  sat  in  his  chair,  with  a  boy  with  a  branch 
to  shade  him  and  another  boy  with  a  branch  to  drive  away 
the  flying  beasts.  The  dogs  rode  on  the  boat  too. 

In  the  summer,  while  the  steamboat  was  still  walking,  Her- 
man Basket  told  how  the  husband  of  the  woman  came  to 
Doom  again.  "I  have  done  what  I  could  for  you,"  Doom 
said.  "Why  don't  you  go  to  Craw-ford  and  adjust  this  matter 
yourself?" 

The  black  man  said  that  he  had  done  that.  He  said  that 
pappy  said  to  adjust  it  by  a  cock-fight,  pappy's  cock  against 
the  black  man's,  the  winner  to  have  the  woman,  the  one 
who  refused  to  fight  to  lose  by  default.  The  black  man  said 
he  told  pappy  he  did  not  have  a  cock,  and  that  pappy  said 
that  in  that  case  the  black  man  lost  by  default  and  that  the 
woman  belonged  to  pappy.  "And  what  am  I  to  do?"  the 
black  man  said. 

Doom  thought.  Then  Herman  Basket  said  that  Doom 
called  to  him  and  asked  him  which  was  pappy's  best  cock 
and  Herman  Basket  told  Doom  that  pappy  had  only  one. 
"That  black  one?"  Doom  said.  Herman  Basket  said  he  told 
Doom  that  was  the  one.  "Ah,"  Doom  said.  Herman  Basket 
told  how  Doom  sat  in  his  chair  on  the  porch  of  the  steam- 
boat while  it  walked,  looking  down  at  the  People  and 
the  black  men  pulling  the  ropes,  making  the  steamboat  walk. 


A  Justice  355 

"Go  and  tell  Craw-ford  you  have  a  cock,"  Doom  said  to 
the  black  man.  "Just  tell  him  you  will  have  a  cock  in  the 
pit.  Let  it  be  tomorrow  morning.  We  will  let  the  steamboat 
sit  down  and  rest."  The  black  man  went  away.  Then  Her- 
man Basket  said  that  Doom  was  looking  at  him,  and  that 
he  did  not  look  at  Doom.  Because  he  said  there  was  but 
one  better  cock  in  the  Plantation  than  pappy's,  and  that 
one  belonged  to  Doom.  "I  think  that  that  puppy  was  not 
sick,"  Doom  said.  "What  do  you  think?" 

Herman  Basket  said  that  he  did  not  look  at  Doom.  "That 
is  what  I  think,"  he  said. 

"That  is  what  I  would  advise,"  Doom  said. 

Herman  Basket  told  how  the  next  day  the  steamboat  sat 
and  rested.  The  pit  was  in  the  stable.  The  People  and  the 
black  people  were  there.  Pappy  had  his  cock  in  the  pit.  Then 
the  black  man  put  his  cock  into  the  pit.  Herman  Basket  said 
that  pappy  looked  at  the  black  man's  cock. 

"This  cock  belongs  to  Ikkemotubbe,"  pappy  said. 

"It  is  his,"  the  People  told  pappy.  "Ikkemotubbe  gave  it 
to  him  with  all  to  witness." 

Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  had  already  picked  up  his 
cock.  "This  is  not  right,"  pappy  said.  "We  ought  not  to  let 
him  risk  his  wife  on  a  cock-fight." 

"Then  you  withdraw?"  the  black  man  said. 

"Let  me  think,"  pappy  said.  He  thought.  The  People 
watched.  The  black  man  reminded  pappy  of  what  he  had 
said  about  defaulting.  Pappy  said  he  did  not  mean  to  say 
that  and  that  he  withdrew  it.  The  People  told  him  that  he 
could  only  withdraw  by  forfeiting  the  match.  Herman 
Basket  said  that  pappy  thought  again.  The  People  watched. 
"All  right,"  pappy  said.  "But  I  am  being  taken  advantage  of." 

The  cocks  fought.  Pappy's  cock  fell.  Pappy  took  it  up 
quickly.  Herman  Basket  said  it  was  like  pappy  had  been  wait- 
ing for  his  cock  to  fall  so  he  could  pick  it  quickly  up.  "Wait," 


356  The  Wilderness 

he  said.  He  looked  at  the  People.  "Now  they  have  fought. 
Isn't  that  true?"  The  People  said  that  it  was  true.  "So  that 
settles  what  I  said  about  forfeiting." 

Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  began  to  get  out  of  the  pit. 

"Aren't  you  going  to  fight?"  the  black  man  said. 

"I  don't  think  this  will  settle  anything,"  pappy  said.  "Do 
you?" 

Herman  Basket  told  how  the  black  man  looked  at  pappy. 
Then  he  quit  looking  at  pappy.  He  was  squatting.  Herman 
Basket  said  the  People  looked  at  the  black  man  looking  at: 
the  earth  between  his  feet.  They  watched  him  take  up  a  clod 
of  dirt,  and  then  they  watched  the  dust  come  out  between 
the  black  man's  fingers.  "Do  you  think  that  this  will  settle 
anything?"  pappy  said. 

"No,"  the  black  man  said.  Herman  Basket  said  that  the 
People  could  not  hear  him  very  good.  But  he  said  that  pappy 
could  hear  him. 

"Neither  do  I,"  pappy  said.  "It  would  not  be  right  to  risk 
your  wife  on  a  cock-fight." 

Herman  Basket  told  how  the  black  man  looked  up,  with 
the  dry  dust  about  the  fingers  of  his  hand.  He  said  the  black 
man's  eyes  looked  red  in  the  dark  pit,  like  the  eyes  of  a  fox. 
"Will  you  let  the  cocks  fight  again?"  the  black  man  said. 

"Do  you  agree  that  it  doesn't  settle  anything?"  pappy  said. 

"Yes,"  the  black  man  said. 

Pappy  put  his  cock  back  into  the  ring.  Herman  Basket 
said  that  pappy's  cock  was  dead  before  it  had  time  to  act 
strange,  even.  The  black  man's  cock  stood  upon  it  and 
started  to  crow,  but  the  black  man  struck  the  live  cock  away 
and  he  jumped  up  and  down  on  the  dead  cock  until  it  did 
not  look  like  a  cock  at  all,  Herman  Basket  said. 

Then  it  was  fall,  and  Herman  Basket  told  how  the  steam- 
boat came  to  the  Plantation  and  stopped  beside  the  House 
and  died  again.  He  said  that  for  two  months  they  had  been 


A  Justice  357 

in  sight  of  the  Plantation,  making  the  steamboat  walk  on  the 
logs,  but  now  the  steamboat  was  beside  the  House  and  the 
House  was  big  enough  to  please  Doom.  He  gave  an  eating. 
It  lasted  a  week.  When  it  was  over,  Herman  Basket  told  how 
the  black  man  came  to  Doom  a  third  time.  Herman  Basket 
said  that  the  black  man's  eyes  were  red  again,  like  those  of 
a  fox,  and  that  they  could  hear  his  breathing  in  the  room. 
"Come  to  my  cabin,"  he  said  to  Doom.  "I  have  something 
to  show  you." 

"I  thought  it  was  about  that  time,"  Doom  said.  He  looked 
about  the  room,  but  Herman  Basket  told  Doom  that  pappy 
had  just  stepped  out.  "Tell  him  to  come  also,"  Doom  said. 
When  they  came  to  the  black  man's  cabin,  Doom  sent  two 
of  the  People  to  fetch  pappy.  Then  they  entered  the  cabin. 
What  the  black  man  wanted  to  show  Doom  was  a  new  man. 

"Look,"  the  black  man  said.  "You  are  the  Man.  You  are 
to  see  justice  done." 

"What  is  wrong  with  this  man?"  Doom  said. 

"Look  at  the  color  of  him,"  the  black  man  said.  He  began 
to  look  around  the  cabin.  Herman  Basket  said  that  his  eyes 
went  red  and  then  brown  and  then  red,  like  those  of  a  fox. 
He  said  they  could  hear  the  black  man's  breathing.  "Do  I 
get  justice?"  the  black  man  said.  "You  are  the  Man." 

"You  should  be  proud  of  a  fine  yellow  man  like  this," 
Doom  said.  Fie  looked  at  the  new  man.  "I  don't  see  that 
justice  can  darken  him  any,"  Doom  said.  He  looked  about 
the  cabin  also.  "Come  forward,  Craw-ford,"  he  said.  "This 
is  a  man,  not  a  copper  snake;  he  will  not  harm  you."  But 
Herman  Basket  said  that  pappy  would  not  come  forward. 
He  said  the  black  man's  eyes  went  red  and  then  brown  and 
then  red  when  he  breathed.  "Yao,"  Doom  said,  "this  is  not 
right.  Any  man  is  entitled  to  have  his  melon  patch  protected 
from  these  wild  bucks  of  the  woods.  But  first  let  us  name  this 
man."  Doom  thought.  Herman  Basket  said  the  black  man's 


358  The  Wilderness 

eyes  went  quieter  now,  and  his  breath  went  quieter  too.  "We 
will  call  him  Had-Two-Fathers,"  Doom  said. 


V 

SAM  FATHERS  lit  his  pipe  again.  He  did  it  deliberately,  rising 
and  lifting  between  thumb  and  forefinger  from  his  forge  a 
coal  of  fire.  Then  he  came  back  and  sat  down.  It  was  getting 
late.  Caddy  and  Jason  had  come  back  from  the  creek,  and  I 
could  see  Grandfather  and  Mr.  Stokes  talking  beside  the 
carriage,  and  at  that  moment,  as  though  he  had  felt  my  gaze, 
Grandfather  turned  and  called  my  name. 

"What  did  your  pappy  do  then?"  I  said. 

"He  and  Herman  Basket  built  the  fence,"  Sam  Fathers 
said.  "Herman  Basket  told  how  Doom  made  them  set  two 
posts  into  the  ground,  with  a  sapling  across  the  top  of  them. 
The  nigger  and  pappy  wrere  there.  Doom  had  not  told  them 
about  the  fence  then.  Flerman  Basket  said  it  was  just  like 
when  he  and  pappy  and  Doom  were  boys,  sleeping  on  the 
same  pallet,  and  Doom  would  wake  them  at  night  and  make 
them  get  up  and  go  hunting  with  him,  or  when  he  would 
make  them  stand  up  with  him  and  fight  with  their  fists,  just 
for  fun,  until  Herman  Basket  and  pappy  would  hide  from 
Doom. 

"They  fixed  the  sapling  across  the  two  posts  and  Doom 
said  to  the  nigger:  'This  is  a  fence.  Can  you  climb  it? ' 

"Flerman  Basket  said  the  nigger  put  his  hand  on  the 
sapling  and  sailed  over  it  like  a  bird. 

"Then  Doom  said  to  pappy:  'Climb  this  fence.' 

"  'This  fence  is  too  high  to  climb/  pappy  said. 

"  'Climb  this  fence,  and  I  will  give  you  the  woman,' 
Doom  said. 

"Herman  Basket  said  pappy  looked  at  the  fencv0.  a  while. 
'Let  me  go  under  this  fence.'  he  said. 


A  Justice  359 

"  'No,'  Doom  said. 

"Herman  Basket  told  me  how  pappy  began  to  sit  down  on 
the  ground.  'It's  not  that  I  don't  trust  you,'  pappy  said. 

"  'We  will  build  the  fence  this  high,'  Doom  said. 

"  'What  fence?'  Herman  Basket  said. 

"  'The  fence  around  the  cabin  of  this  black  man,'  Doom 
said. 

"  'I  can't  build  a  fence  I  couldn't  climb,'  pappy  said. 

"  'Herman  will  help  you,'  Doom  said. 

"Herman  Basket  said  it  was  just  like  when  Doom  used  to 
wake  them  and  make  them  go  hunting.  He  said  the  dogs 
found  him  and  pappy  about  noon  the  next  day,  and  that  they 
began  the  fence  that  afternoon.  He  told  me  how  they  had 
to  cut  the  saplings  in  the  creek  bottom  and  drag  them  in  by 
hand,  because  Doom  would  not  let  them  use  the  wagon.  So 
sometimes  one  post  would  take  them  three  or  four  days. 
'Never  mind,'  Doom  said.  'You  have  plenty  of  time.  And 
the  exercise  will  make  Craw-ford  sleep  at  night.' 

"He  told  me  how  they  worked  on  the  fence  all  that  winter 
and  all  the  next  summer,  until  after  the  whisky  trader  had 
come  and  gone.  Then  it  was  finished.  He  said  that  on  the 
day  they  set  the  last  post,  the  nigger  came  out  of  the  cabin 
and  put  his  hand  on  the  top  of  a  post  (it  was  a  palisade  fence, 
the  posts  set  upright  in  the  ground)  and  flew  out  like  a  bird. 
'This  is  a  good  fence,'  the  nigger  said.  'Wait,'  he  said.  'I  have 
something  to  show  you.'  Herman  Basket  said  he  flew  back 
over  the  fence  again  and  went  into  the  cabin  and  came  back. 
Herman  Basket  said  that  he  was  carrying  a  new  man  and  that 
he  held  the  new  man  up  so  they  could  see  it  above  the  fence. 
'What  do  you  think  about  this  for  color?'  he  said." 

Grandfather  called  me  again.  This  time  I  got  up.  The  sun 
was  already  down  beyond  the  peach  orchard.  I  was  just 
twelve  then,  and  to  me  the  story  did  not  seem  to  have  got 
anywhere,  to  have  had  point  or  end.  Yet  I  obeyed  Grand- 


360  The  Wilderness 

father's  voice,  not  that  I  was  tired  of  Sam  Fathers'  talking, 
but  with  that  immediacy  of  children  with  which  they  flee 
temporarily  something  which  they  do  not  quite  understand; 
that,  and  the  instinctive  promptness  with  which  we  all  obeyed 
Grandfather,  not  from  concern  of  impatience  or  reprimand, 
but  because  we  all  believed  that  he  did  fine  things,  that  his 
waking  life  passed  from  one  fine  (if  faintly  grandiose)  pic- 
ture to  another. 

They  were  in  the  surrey,  waiting  for  me.  I  got  in;  the 
horses  moved  at  once,  impatient  too  for  the  stable.  Caddy 
had  one  fish,  about  the  size  of  a  chip,  and  she  was  wet  to  the 
waist.  We  drove  on,  the  team  already  trotting.  When  we 
passed  Mr.  Stokes'  kitchen  we  could  smell  ham  cooking. 
The  smell  followed  us  on  to  the  gate.  When  we  turned  onto 
the  road  home  it  was  almost  sundown.  Then  we  couldn't 
smell  the  cooking  ham  any  more.  "What  were  you  and  Sam 
talking  about?"  Grandfather  said. 

We  went  on,  in  that  strange,  faintly  sinister  suspension  of 
twilight  in  which  I  believed  that  I  could  still  see  Sam  Fathers 
back  there,  sitting  on  his  wooden  block,  definite,  immobile, 
and  complete,  like  something  looked  upon  after  a  long  time 
in  a  preservative  bath  in  a  museum.  That  was  it.  I  was  just 
twelve  then,  and  I  would  have  to  wait  until  I  had  passed  on 
and  through  and  beyond  the  suspension  of  twilight.  Then  I 
knew  that  I  would  know.  But  then  Sam  Fathers  would  be 
dead. 

"Nothing,  sir,"  I  said.  "We  were  just  talking." 


A  Courtship 


THIS  is  HOW  it  was  in  the  old  days,  when  old  Issetibbeha  was 
still  the  Man,  and  Ikkemotubbe,  Issetibbeha's  nephew,  and 
David  Hogganbeck,  the  white  man  who  told  the  steamboat 
where  to  walk,  courted  Herman  Basket's  sister. 

The  People  all  lived  in  the  Plantation  now.  Issetibbeha 
and  General  Jackson  met  and  burned  sticks  and  signed  a 
paper,  and  now  a  line  ran  through  the  woods,  although  you 
could  not  see  it.  It  ran  straight  as  a  bee's  flight  among  the 
woods,  with  the  Plantation  on  one  side  of  it,  where  Issetib- 
beha was  the  Man,  and  America  on  the  other  side,  where 
General  Jackson  was  the  Man.  So  now  when  something 
happened  on  one  side  of  the  line,  it  was  a  bad  fortune  for 
some  and  a  good  fortune  for  others,  depending  on  what  the 
white  man  happened  to  possess,  as  it  had  always  been.  But 
merely  by  occurring  on  the  other  side  of  that  line  which 
you  couldn't  even  see,  it  became  what  the  white  men  called 
a  crime  punishable  by  death  if  they  could  just  have  found 
who  did  it.  Which  seemed  foolish  to  us.  There  was  one 
uproar  which  lasted  off  and  on  for  a  week,  not  that  the 
white  man  had  disappeared,  because  he  had  been  the  sort 
of  white  man  which  even  other  white  men  did  not  regret, 
but  because  of  a  delusion  that  he  had  been  eaten.  As  if  any 
man,  no  matter  how  hungry,  would  risk  eating  the  flesh  of 
a  coward  or  thief  in  this  country  where  even  in  \yjnter  there 

361 


362  The  Wilderness 

is  always  something  to  be  found  to  eat; — this  land  for  which, 
as  Issetibbeha  used  to  say  after  he  had  become  so  old  that 
nothing  more  was  required  of  him  except  to  sit  in  the  sun 
and  criticise  the  degeneration  of  the  People  and  the  folly  and 
rapacity  of  politicians,  the  Great  Spirit  has  done  more  and 
man  less  than  for  any  land  he  ever  heard  of.  But  it  was  a 
free  country,  and  if  the  white  man  wished  to  make  a  rule 
even  that  foolish  in  their  half  of  it,  it  was  all  right  with  us. 

Then  Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hogganbeck  saw  Herman 
Basket's  sister.  As  who  did  not,  sooner  or  later,  young  men 
and  old  men  too,  bachelors  and  \vidowcrs  too,  and  some  who 
were  not  even  widowers  yet,  who  for  more  than  one  reason 
within  the  hut  had  no  business  looking  anywhere  else, 
though  who  is  to  say  what  age  a  man  must  reach  or  just 
how  unfortunate  he  must  have  been  in  his  youthful  com- 
pliance, when  he  shall  no  longer  look  at  the  Herman  Basket's 
sisters  of  this  world  and  chew  his  bitter  thumbs  too,  aihee. 
Because  she  walked  in  beauty.  Or  she  sat  in  it,  that  is,  be- 
cause she  did  not  walk  at  all  unless  she  had  to.  One  of  the 
earliest  sounds  in  the  Plantation  would  be  the  voice  of 
Herman  Basket's  aunt  crying  to  know  why  she  had  not  risen 
and  gone  to  the  spring  for  water  with  the  other  girls,  which 
she  did  not  do  sometimes  until  Herman  Basket  himself  rose 
and  made  her,  or  in  the  afternoon  crying  to  know  why  she 
did  not  go  to  the  river  with  the  other  girls  and  women  to 
wash,  which  she  did  not  do  very  often  either.  But  she  did 
not  need  to.  Anyone  who  looks  as  Herman  Basket's  sister 
did  at  seventeen  and  eighteen  and  nineteen  does  not  need 
to  wash. 

Then  one  day  Ikkemotubbe  saw  her,  who  had  known  her 
all  his  life  except  during  the  first  two  years.  He  was  Issetib- 
beha's  sister's  son.  One  night  he  got  into  the  steamboat  with 
David  Hogganbeck  and  went  away.  And  suns  passed  and 
then  moons  and  then  three  high  waters  came  and  went  and 


A  Courtship  363 

old  Issetibbeha  had  entered  the  earth  a  year  and  his  son 
Moketubbe  was  the  Man  when  Ikkemotubbe  returned, 
named  Doom  now,  with  the  white  friend  called  the  Chev- 
alier Sceur-Blonde  de  Vitry  and  the  eight  new  slaves  which 
we  did  not  need  either,  and  his  gold-laced  hat  and  cloak  and 
the  little  gold  box  of  strong  salt  and  the  wicker  wine  hamper 
containing  the  four  other  puppies  which  were  still  alive,  and 
within  two  days  Moketubbe 's  little  son  was  dead  and  within 
three  Ikkemotubbe  whose  name  was  Doom  now  was  him- 
self the  Man.  But  he  was  not  Doom  yet.  He  was  still  just 
Ikkemotubbe,  one  of  the  young  men,  the  best  one,  who  rode 
the  hardest  and  fastest  and  danced  the  longest  and  got  the 
drunkest  and  was  loved  the  best,  by  the  young  men  and  the 
girls  and  the  older  women  too  who  should  have  had  other 
things  to  think  about.  Then  one  day  he  saw  Herman  Basket's 
sister,  whom  he  had  known  all  his  life  except  for  the  first 
two  years. 

After  Ikkemotubbe  looked  at  her,  my  father  and  Owl-by- 
Night  and  Sylvester's  John  and  the  other  young  men  looked 
away.  Because  he  was  the  best  of  them  and  they  loved  him 
then  while  he  was  still  just  Ikkemotubbe.  They  would  hold 
the  other  horse  for  him  as,  stripped  to  the  waist,  his  hair 
and  body  oiled  with  bear's  grease  as  when  racing  (though 
with  honey  mixed  into  the  bear's  grease  now)  and  with  only 
a  rope  hackamore  and  no  saddle  as  when  racing,  Ikkemo- 
tubbe would  ride  on  his  new  racing  pony  past  the  gallery 
where  Herman  Basket's  sister  sat  shelling  corn  or  peas  into 
the  silver  wine  pitcher  which  her  aunt  had  inherited  from 
her  second  cousin  by  marriage's  great-aunt  who  was  old 
David  Colbert's  wife,  while  Log-in-the-Creek  (one  of  the 
young  men  too,  though  nobody  paid  any  attention  to  him. 
He  raced  no  horses  and  fought  no  cocks  and  cast  no  dice, 
and  even  when  forced  to,  he  would  not  even  dance  fast 
enough  to  keep  out  of  the  other  dancers'  way,  and  disgraced 


364  The  Wilderness 

both  himself  and  the  others  each  time  by  becoming  sick  after 
only  five  or  six  horns  of  what  was  never  even  his  whisky) 
leaned  against  one  of  the  gallery  posts  and  blew  into  his 
harmonica.  Then  one  of  the  young  men  held  the  racing 
pony,  and  on  his  gaited  mare  now  and  wearing  his  flower- 
painted  weskit  and  pigeon-tailed  coat  and  beaver  hat  in 
which  he  looked  handsomer  than  a  steamboat  gambler  and 
richer  even  than  the  whisky-trader,  Ikkemotubbe  would  ride 
past  the  gallery  where  Herman  Basket's  sister  shelled  another 
pod  of  peas  into  the  pitcher  and  Log-in-the-Creek  sat  with 
his  back  against  the  post  and  blew  into  the  harmonica.  Then 
another  of  the  young  men  would  take  the  mare  too  and 
Ikkemotubbe  would  walk  to  Herman  Basket's  and  sit  on  the 
gallery  too  in  his  fine  clothes  while  Herman  Basket's  sister 
shelled  another  pod  of  peas  perhaps  into  the  silver  pitcher 
and  Log-in-the-Creek  lay  on  his  back  on  the  floor,  blowing 
into  the  harmonica.  Then  the  whisky-trader  came  and 
Ikkemotubbe  and  the  young  men  invited  Log-in-the-Creek 
into  the  woods  until  they  became  tired  of  carrying  him.  And 
although  a  good  deal  wasted  outside,  as  usual  Log-in-the- 
Creek  became  sick  and  then  asleep  after  seven  or  eight  horns, 
and  Ikkemotubbe  returned  to  Herman  Basket's  gallery, 
where  for  a  day  or  two  at  least  he  didn't  have  to  not  listen 
to  the  harmonica. 

Finally  Owl-at-Night  made  a  suggestion.  "Send  Herman 
Basket's  aunt  a  gift."  But  the  only  thing  Ikkemotubbe 
owned  which  Herman  Basket's  aunt  didn't,  was  the  new 
racing  pony.  So  after  a  while  Ikkemotubbe  said,  "So  it  seems 
I  want  this  girl  even  worse  than  I  believed,"  and  sent  Owl- 
at-Night  to  tie  the  racing  pony's  hackamore  to  Herman 
Basket's  kitchen  door  handle.  Then  he  thought  how  Herman 
Basket's  aunt  could  not  even  always  make  Herman  Basket's 
sister  just  get  up  and  go  to  the  spring  for  water.  Besides, 
she  was  the  second  cousin  by  marriage  to  the  grand-niece 


A  Courtship  365 

of  the  wife  of  old  David  Colbert,  the  chief  Man  of  all  the 
Chickasaws  in  our  section,  and  she  looked  upon  Issetibbeha's 
whole  family  and  line  as  mushrooms. 

"But  Herman  Basket  has  been  known  to  make  her  get  up 
and  go  to  the  spring,"  my  father  said.  "And  I  never  heard 
him  claim  that  old  Dave  Colbert's  wife  or  his  wife's  niece 
or  anybody  else's  wife  or  niece  or  aunt  was  any  better  than 
anybody  else.  Give  Herman  the  horse." 

"I  can  beat  that,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  Because  there  was  no 
horse  in  the  Plantation  or  America  either  between  Natchez 
and  Nashville  whose  tail  Ikkemotubbe's  new  pony  ever 
looked  at.  "I  will  run  Herman  a  horse-race  for  his  influence," 
he  said.  "Run,"  he  told  my  father.  "Catch  Owl-at-Night 
before  he  reaches  the  house."  So  my  father  brought  the 
pony  back  in  time.  But  just  in  case  Herman  Basket's  aunt 
had  been  watching  from  the  kitchen  window  or  something, 
Ikkemotubbe  sent  Owl-at-Night  and  Sylvester's  John  home 
for  his  crate  of  gamecocks,  though  he  expected  little  from 
this  since  Herman  Basket's  aunt  already  owned  the  best 
cocks  in  the  Plantation  and  won  all  the  money  every  Sun- 
day morning  anyway.  And  then  Herman  Basket  declined 
to  commit  himself,  so  a  horse-race  would  have  been  merely 
for  pleasure  and  money.  And  Ikkemotubbe  said  how  money 
could  not  help  him,  and  with  that  damned  girl  on  his  mind 
day  and  night  his  tongue  had  forgotten  the  savor  of  pleasure. 
But  the  whisky-trader  always  came,  and  so  for  a  day  or  two 
at  least  he  wouldn't  have  to  not  listen  to  the  harmonica. 

Then  David  Hogganbeck  also  looked  at  Herman  Basket's 
sister,  whom  he  too  had  been  seeing  once  each  year  since  the 
steamboat  first  walked  to  the  Plantation.  After  a  while  even 
winter  would  be  over  and  we  would  begin  to  watch  the 
mark  which  David  Hogganbeck  had  put  on  the  landing  to 
show  us  when  the  water  would  be  tall  enough  for  the  steam- 
boat to  walk  in.  Then  the  river  would  reach  the  mark,  and 


3  66  The  Wilderness 

sure  enough  within  two  suns  the  steamboat  would  cry  in 
the  Plantation.  Then  all  the  People — men  and  women  and 
children  and  dogs,  even  Herman  Basket's  sister  because 
Ikkemotubbe  would  fetch  a  horse  for  her  to  ride  and  so 
only  Log-in-the-Creek  would  remain,  not  inside  the  house 
even  though  it  was  still  cold,  because  Herman  Basket's  aunt 
wouldn't  let  him  stay  inside  the  house  where  she  would 
have  to  step  over  him  each  time  she  passed,  but  squatting  in 
his  blanket  on  the  gallery  with  an  old  cooking-pot  of  fire 
inside  the  blanket  with  him — would  stand  on  the  landing, 
to  watch  the  upstairs  and  the  smokestack  moving  among  the 
trees  and  hear  the  puffing  of  the  smokestack  and  its  feet 
walking  fast  in  the  water  too  when  it  was  not  crying.  Then 
we  would  begin  to  hear  David  Hogganbeck's  fiddle,  and 
then  the  steamboat  would  come  walking  up  the  last  of  the 
river  like  a  race-horse,  with  the  smoke  rolling  black  and  its 
feet  flinging  the  water  aside  as  a  running  horse  flings  dirt, 
and  Captain  Studenmare  who  owned  the  steamboat  chewing 
tobacco  in  one  window  and  David  Hogganbeck  playing  his 
fiddle  in  the  other,  and  between  them  the  head  of  the  boy 
slave  who  turned  the  wheel,  who  was  not  much  more  than 
half  as  big  as  Captain  Studenmare  and  not  even  a  third  as 
big  as  David  Hogganbeck.  And  all  day  long  the  trading 
would  continue,  though  David  Hogganbeck  took  little  part 
in  this.  And  all  night  long  the  dancing  would  continue,  and 
David  Hogganbeck  took  the  biggest  part  in  this.  Because  he 
was  bigger  than  any  two  of  the  young  men  put  together 
almost,  and  although  you  would  not  have  called  him  a  man 
built  for  dancing  or  running  either,  it  was  as  if  that  very 
double  size  which  could  hold  twice  as  much  whisky  as  any 
other,  could  also  dance  twice  as  long,  until  one  by  one  the 
young  men  fell  away  and  only  he  was  left.  And  there  was 
horse-racing  and  eating,  and  although  David  Hogganbeck 
had  no  horses  and  did  not  ride  one  since  no  horse  could 


A  Courtship  367 

have  carried  him  and  run  fast  too,  he  would  eat  a  match 
each  year  for  money  against  any  two  of  the  young  men 
whom  the  People  picked,  and  David  Hogganbeck  always 
won.  Then  the  water  would  return  toward  the  mark  he  had 
made  on  the  landing,  and  it  would  be  time  for  the  steamboat 
to  leave  while  there  was  still  enough  water  in  the  river  for  it 
to  walk  in. 

And  then  it  did  not  go  away.  The  river  began  to  grow 
little,  yet  still  David  Hogganbeck  played  his  fiddle  on 
Herman  Basket's  gallery  while  Herman  Basket's  sister  stirred 
something  for  cooking  into  the  silver  wine  pitcher  and 
Ikkemotubbe  sat  against  a  post  in  his  fine  clothes  and  his 
beaver  hat  and  Log-in-the-Creek  lay  on  his  back  on  the 
floor  with  the  harmonica  cupped  in  both  hands  to  his  mouth, 
though  you  couldn't  hear  now  whether  he  was  blowing  into 
it  or  not.  Then  you  could  see  the  mark  which  David  Hog- 
ganbeck had  marked  on  the  landing  while  he  still  played  his 
fiddle  on  Herman  Basket's  gallery  where  Ikkemotubbe  had 
brought  a  rocking  chair  from  his  house  to  sit  in  until  David 
Hogganbeck  would  have  to  leave  in  order  to  show  the  steam- 
boat the  way  back  to  Natchez.  And  all  that  afternoon  the 
People  stood  along  the  landing  and  watched  the  steamboat's 
slaves  hurling  wood  into  its  stomach  for  steam  to  make  it 
walk;  and  during  most  of  that  night,  while  David  Hoggan- 
beck drank  twice  as  much  and  danced  twice  as  long  as  even 
David  Hogganbeck,  so  that  he  drank  four  times  as  much 
and  danced  four  times  as  long  as  even  Ikkemotubbe,  even 
an  Ikkemotubbe  who  at  last  had  looked  at  Herman  Basket's 
sister  or  at  least  had  looked  at  someone  else  looking  at  her, 
the  older  ones  among  the  People  stood  along  the  landing  and 
watched  the  slaves  hurling  wood  into  the  steamboat's  stom- 
ach, not  to  make  it  walk  but  to  make  its  voice  cry  while 
Captain  Studenmare  leaned  out  of  the  upstairs  with  the  end 
of  the  crying-rope  tied  to  the  door-handle.  And  the  next 


368  The  Wilderness 

day  Captain  Studenmare  himself  came  onto  the  gallery  and 
grasped  the  end  of  David  Hogganbeck's  fiddle. 

"You're  fired,"  he  said. 

"All  right,"  David  Hogganbeck  said.  Then  Captain 
Studenmare  grasped  the  end  of  David  Hogganbeck's  fiddle. 

"We  will  have  to  go  back  to  Natchez  where  I  can  get 
money  to  pay  you  off,"  he  said. 

"Leave  the  money  at  the  saloon,"  David  Hogganbeck 
said.  "I'll  bring  the  boat  back  out  next  spring." 

Then  it  was  night.  Then  Herman  Basket's  aunt  came  out 
and  said  that  if  they  were  going  to  stay  there  all  night,  at 
least  David  Hogganbeck  would  have  to  stop  playing  his 
fiddle  so  other  people  could  sleep.  Then  she  came  out  and 
said  for  Herman  Basket's  sister  to  come  in  and  go  to  bed. 
Then  Herman  Basket  came  out  and  said,  "Come  on  now, 
fellows.  Be  reasonable."  Then  Herman  Basket's  aunt  came 
out  and  said  that  the  next  time  she  was  going  to  bring  Her- 
man Basket's  dead  uncle's  shotgun.  So  Ikkemotubbe  and 
David  Hogganbeck  left  Log-in-the-Creek  lying  on  the  floor 
and  stepped  down  from  the  gallery.  "Goodnight,"  David 
Hogganbeck  said. 

"I'll  walk  home  with  you,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  So  they 
walked  across  the  Plantation  to  the  steamboat.  It  was  dark 
and  there  was  no  fire  in  its  stomach  now  because  Captain 
Studenmare  was  still  asleep  under  Issetibbeha's  back  porch. 
Then  Ikkemotubbe  said,  "Goodnight." 

"I'll  walk  home  with  you,"  David  Hogganbeck  said.  So 
they  walked  back  across  the  Plantation  to  Ikkemotubbe's 
house.  But  David  Hogganbeck  did  not  have  time  to  say 
goodnight  now  because  Ikkemotubbe  turned  as  soon  as  they 
reached  his  house  and  started  back  toward  the  steamboat. 
Then  he  began  to  run,  because  David  Hogganbeck  still  did 
not  look  like  a  man  who  could  run  fast.  But  he  had  not 
looked  like  a  man  who  could  dance  a  long  time  either,  so 


A  Courtship  369 

when  Ikkemotubbe  reached  the  steamboat  and  turned  and 
ran  again,  he  was  only  a  little  ahead  of  David  Hogganbeck. 
And  when  they  reached  Ikkemotubbe's  house  he  was  still 
only  a  little  ahead  of  David  Hogganbeck  when  he  stopped, 
breathing  fast  but  only  a  little  fast,  and  held  the  door  open 
for  David  Hogganbeck  to  enter. 

"My  house  is  not  very  much  house,"  he  said.  "But  it  is 
yours."  So  they  both  slept  in  Ikkemotubbe's  bed  in  his  house 
that  night.  And  the  next  afternoon,  although  Herman  Bas- 
ket would  still  do  no  more  than  wish  him  success,  Ikkemo- 
tubbe sent  my  father  and  Sylvester's  John  with  his  saddle 
mare  for  Herman  Basket's  aunt  to  ride  on,  and  he  and  Her- 
man Basket  ran  the  horse-race.  And  he  rode  faster  than  any- 
one had  ever  ridden  in  the  Plantation.  He  won  by  lengths  and 
lengths  and,  with  Herman  Basket's  aunt  watching,  he  made 
Herman  Basket  take  all  the  money,  as  though  Herman  Bas- 
ket had  won,  and  that  evening  he  sent  Owl-at-Night  to  tie 
the  racing  pony's  hackamore  to  the  door-handle  of  Herman 
Basket's  kitchen.  But  that  night  Herman  Basket's  aunt  did 
not  even  warn  them.  She  came  out  the  first  time  with  Her- 
man Basket's  dead  uncle's  gun,  and  hardly  a  moment  had 
elapsed  before  Ikkemotubbe  found  out  that  she  meant  him 
too.  So  he  and  David  Hogganbeck  left  Log-in-tiie-Creek 
lying  on  the  gallery  and  they  stopped  for  a  moment  at  my 
father's  house  on  the  first  trip  between  Ikkemotubbe's  house 
and  the  steamboat,  though  when  my  father  and  Owl-at- 
Night  finally  found  Ikkemotubbe  to  tell  him  that  Herman 
Basket's  aunt  must  have  sent  the  racing  pony  far  into  the 
woods  and  hidden  it  because  they  had  not  found  it  yet, 
Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hogganbeck  were  both  asleep  in 
David  Hogganbeck's  bed  in  the  steamboat. 

And  the  next  morning  the  whisky-trader  came,  and  that 
afternoon  Ikkemotubbe  and  the  young  men  invited  Log-in- 
the-Creek  into  the  woods  and  my  father  and  Sylvester's 


370  The  Wilderness 

John  returned  for  the  whisky-trader's  buckboard  and,  with 
my  father  and  Sylvester's  John  driving  the  buckboard  and 
Log-in-the-Creek  lying  on  his  face  on  top  of  the  little  house 
on  the  back  of  the  buckboard  where  the  whisky-kegs  rode 
and  Ikkemotubbe  standing  on  top  of  the  little  house,  wear- 
ing the  used  general's  coat  which  General  Jackson  gave 
Issetibbeha,  with  his  arms  folded  and  one  foot  advanced 
onto  Log-in-the-Creek 's  back,  they  rode  slow  past  the  gal- 
lery where  David  Hogganbeck  played  his  fiddle  while 
Herman  Basket's  sister  stirred  something  for  cooking  into 
the  silver  wine  pitcher.  And  when  my  father  and  Owl-at- 
Night  found  Ikkemotubbe  that  night  to  tell  him  they  still 
had  not  found  where  Herman  Basket's  aunt  had  hidden  the 
pony,  Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hogganbeck  were  at  Ikke- 
motubbe's  house.  And  the  next  afternoon  Ikkemotubbe  and 
the  young  men  invited  David  Hogganbeck  into  the  woods 
and  it  was  a  long  time  this  time  and  when  they  came  out, 
David  Hogganbeck  was  driving  the  buckboard  while  the 
legs  of  Ikkemotubbe  and  the  other  young  men  dangled  from 
the  open  door  of  the  little  whisky-house  like  so  many  strands 
of  vine  hay  and  Issetibbeha's  general's  coat  was  tied  by  its 
sleeves  about  the  neck  of  one  of  the  mules.  And  nobody 
hunted  for  the  racing  pony  that  night,  and  when  Ikkemo- 
tubbe waked  up,  he  didn't  know  at  first  even  where  he  was. 
And  he  could  already  hear  David  Hogganbeck's  fiddle  be- 
fore he  could  move  aside  enough  of  the  young  men  to  get 
out  of  the  little  whisky-house,  because  that  night  neither 
Herman  Basket's  aunt  nor  Herman  Basket  and  then  finally 
Herman  Basket's  dead  uncle's  gun  could  persuade  David 
Hogganbeck  to  leave  the  gallery  and  go  away  or  even  to 
stop  playing  the  fiddle. 

So  the  next  morning  Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hoggan- 
beck squatted  in  a  quiet  place  in  the  woods  while  the  young 
men,  except  Sylvester's  John  and  Owl-by-Night  who  were 


A  Courtship  371 

still  hunting  for  the  horse,  stood  on  guard.  "We  could  fight 
for  her  then,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

"We  could  fight  for  her,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "But  white 
men  and  the  People  fight  differently.  We  fight  with  knives, 
to  hurt  good  and  to  hurt  quickly.  That  would  be  all  right, 
if  I  were  to  lose.  Because  I  would  wish  to  be  hurt  good. 
But  if  I  am  to  win,  I  do  not  wish  you  to  be  hurt  good.  If 
I  am  to  truly  win,  it  will  be  necessary  for  you  to  be  there 
to  see  it.  On  the  day  of  the  wedding,  I  wish  you  to  be 
present,  or  at  least  present  somewhere,  not  lying  wrapped 
in  a  blanket  on  a  platform  in  the  woods,  waiting  to  enter  the 
earth."  Then  my  father  said  how  Ikkemotubbe  put  his  hand 
on  David  Hogganbeck's  shoulder  and  smiled  at  him.  "If  that 
could  satisfy  me,  we  would  not  be  squatting  here  discussing 
what  to  do.  I  think  you  see  that." 

"I  think  I  do,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

Then  my  father  said  how  Ikkemotubbe  removed  his  hand 
from  David  Hogganbeck's  shoulder.  "And  we  have  tried 
whisky,"  he  said. 

"We  have  tried  that,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

"Even  the  racing  pony  and  the  general's  coat  failed  me," 
Ikkemotubbe  said.  "I  had  been  saving  them,  like  a  man  with 
two  hole-cards." 

"I  wouldn't  say  that  the  coat  completely  failed,"  David 
Hogganbeck  said.  "You  looked  fine  in  it." 

"Aihee,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "So  did  the  mule."  Then  my 
father  said  how  he  was  not  smiling  either  as  he  squatted 
beside  David  Hogganbeck,  making  little  marks  in  the  earth 
with  a  twig.  "So  there  is  just  one  other  thing,"  he  said.  "And 
I  am  already  beaten  at  that  too  before  we  start." 

So  all  that  day  they  ate  nothing.  And  that  night  when 
they  left  Log-in-the-Creek  lying  on  Herman  Basket's  gal- 
lery, instead  of  merely  walking  for  a  while  and  then  running 
for  a  while  back  and  forth  between  Ikkemotubbe's  house 


372  The  Wilderness 

and  the  steamboat,  they  began  to  run  as  soon  as  they  left 
Herman  Basket's.  And  when  they  lay  down  in  the  woods 
to  sleep,  it  was  where  they  would  not  only  be  free  of  temp- 
tation to  eat  but  of  opportunity  too,  and  from  which  it 
would  take  another  hard  run  as  an  appetiser  to  reach  the 
Plantation  for  the  match.  Then  it  was  morning  and  they  ran 
back  to  where  my  father  and  the  young  men  waited  on 
horses  to  meet  them  and  tell  Ikkemotubbe  that  they  still 
hadn't  found  where  under  the  sun  Herman  Basket's  aunt 
could  have  hidden  the  pony  and  to  escort  them  back  across 
the  Plantation  to  the  race-course,  where  the  People  waited 
around  the  table,  with  Ikkemotubbe's  rocking  chair  from 
Herman  Basket's  gallery  for  Issetibbeha  and  a  bench  behind 
it  for  the  judges.  First  there  was  a  recess  while  a  ten-year-old 
boy  ran  once  around  the  race-track,  to  let  them  recover 
breath.  Then  Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hogganbeck  took 
their  places  on  either  side  of  the  table,  facing  each  other 
across  it,  and  Owl-at-Night  gave  the  word. 

First,  each  had  that  quantity  of  stewed  bird  chitterlings 
which  the  other  could  scoop  with  two  hands  from  the  pot. 
Then  each  had  as  many  wild  turkey  eggs  as  he  was  old, 
Ikkemotubbe  twenty-two  and  David  Hogganbeck  twenty- 
three,  though  Ikkemotubbe  refused  the  advantage  and  said 
he  would  eat  twenty-three  too.  Then  David  Hogganbeck 
said  he  was  entitled  to  one  more  than  Ikkemotubbe  so  he 
would  eat  twenty-four,  until  Issetibbeha  told  them  both  to 
hush  and  get  on,  and  Owl-at-Night  tallied  the  shells.  Then 
there  was  the  tongue,  paws  and  melt  of  a  bear,  though  for 
a  little  while  Ikkemotubbe  stood  and  looked  at  his  half  of 
it  while  David  Hogganbeck  was  already  eating.  And  at  the 
half-way  he  stopped  and  looked  at  it  again  while  David 
Hogganbeck  was  finishing.  But  it  was  all  right;  there  was  a 
faint  smile  on  his  face  such  as  the  young  men  had  seen  on 
it  at  the  end  of  a  hard  running  when  he  was  going  from 


A  Courtship  373 

now  on  not  on  the  fact  that  he  was  still  alive  but  on  the 
fact  that  he  was  Ikkemotubbe.  And  he  went  on,  and  Owl- 
at-Night  tallied  the  bones,  and  the  women  set  the  roasted 
shote  on  the  table  and  Ikkemotubbe  and  David  Hogganbeck 
moved  back  to  the  tail  of  the  shote  and  faced  one  another 
across  it  and  Owl-at-Night  had  even  given  the  word  to  start 
until  he  gave  another  word  to  stop.  "Give  me  some  water," 
Ikkemotubbe  said.  So  my  father  handed  him  the  gourd  and 
he  even  took  a  swallow.  But  the  water  returned  as  though 
it  had  merely  struck  the  back  of  his  throat  and  bounced, 
and  Ikkemotubbe  put  the  gourd  down  and  raised  the  tail  of 
his  shirt  before  his  bowed  face  and  turned  and  walked  away 
as  the  People  opened  aside  to  let  him  pass. 

And  that  afternoon  they  did  not  even  go  to  the  quiet  place 
in  the  woods.  They  stood  in  Ikkemotubbe's  house  while  my 
father  and  the  others  stood  quietly  too  in  the  background. 
My  father  said  that  Ikkemotubbe  was  not  smiling  now.  "I 
was  right  yesterday,"  he  said.  "If  I  am  to  lose  to  thee,  we 
should  have  used  the  knives.  You  see,"  he  said,  and  now  my 
father  said  he  even  smiled  again,  as  at  the  end  of  the  long 
hard  running  when  the  young  men  knew  that  he  would  go 
on,  not  because  he  was  still  alive  but  because  he  was  Ikkemo- 
tubbe; " — you  see,  although  I  have  lost,  I  still  cannot  recon- 
cile." 

"I  had  you  beat  before  we  started,"  David  Hogganbeck 
said.  "We  both  knew  that." 

"Yes,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "But  I  suggested  it." 

"Then  what  do  you  suggest  now?"  David  Hogganbeck 
said.  And  now  my  father  said  how  they  loved  David  Hog- 
ganbeck at  that  moment  'as  they  loved  Ikkemotubbe;  that 
they  loved  them  both  at  that  moment  while  Ikkemotubbe 
stood  before  David  Hogganbeck  with  the  smile  on  his  face 
and  his  right  hand  flat  on  David  Hogganbeck's  chest,  be- 
cause there  were  men  in  those  days. 


374  The  Wilderness 

"Once  more  then,  and  then  no  more,"  Ikkemotubbe  said. 
"The  Cave."  Then  he  and  David  Hogganbeck  stripped  and 
my  father  and  the  others  oiled  them,  body  and  hair  too, 
with  bear's  grease  mixed  with  mint,  not  just  for  speed  this 
time  but  for  lasting  too,  because  the  Cave  was  a  hundred 
and  thirty  miles  away,  over  in  the  country  of  old  David 
Colbert — a  black  hole  in  the  hill  which  the  spoor  of  wild 
creatures  merely  approached  and  then  turned  away  and 
which  no  dog  could  even  be  beaten  to  enter  and  where  the 
boys  from  among  all  the  People  would  go  to  lie  on  their  first 
Night-away-from-Fire  to  prove  if  they  had  the  courage  to 
become  men,  because  it  had  been  known  among  the  People 
from  a  long  time  ago  that  the  sound  of  a  whisper  or  even  the 
disturbed  air  of  a  sudden  movement  would  bring  parts  of 
the  roof  down  and  so  all  believed  that  not  even  a  very  big 
movement  or  sound  or  maybe  none  at  all  at  some  time 
would  bring  the  whole  mountain  into  the  cave.  Then  Ikke- 
motubbe took  the  two  pistols  from  the  trunk  and  drew  the 
loads  and  reloaded  them.  "Whoever  reaches  the  Cave  first 
can  enter  it  alone  and  fire  his  pistol,"  he  said.  "If  he  comes 
back  out,  he  has  won." 

"And  if  he  does  not  come  back  out?"  David  Hogganbeck 
said. 

"Then  you  have  won,"  Ikkemotubbe  said. 

"Or  you,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

And  now  my  father  said  how  Ikkemotubbe  smiled  again 
at  David  Hogganbeck.  "Or  me,"  he  said.  "Though  I  think 
I  told  you  yesterday  that  such  as  that  for  me  will  not  be 
victory."  Then  Ikkemotubbe  put  another  charge  of  powder, 
with  a  wadding  and  bullet,  into  each  of  two  small  medicine 
bags,  one  for  himself  and  one  for  David  Hogganbeck,  just 
in  case  the  one  who  entered  the  Cave  first  should  not  lose 
quick  enough,  and,  wearing  only  their  shirts  and  shoes  and 
each  with  his  pistol  and  medicine  bag  looped  on  a  cord 


A  Courtship  375 

around  his  neck,  thjey  emerged  from  Ikkemotubbe's  house 
and  began  to  run. 

It  was  evening  then.  Then  it  was  night,  and  since  David 
Hogganbeck  did  not  know  the  way,  Ikkemotubbe  continued 
to  set  the  pace.  But  after  a  time  it  was  daylight  again  and 
now  David  Hogganbeck  could  run  by  the  sun  and  the  land- 
marks which  Ikkemotubbe  described  to  him  while  they 
rested  beside  a  creek,  if  he  wished  to  go  faster.  So  some- 
times David  Hogganbeck  would  run  in  front  and  sometimes 
Ikkemotubbe,  then  David  Hogganbeck  would  pass  Ikkemo- 
tubbe as  he  sat  beside  a  spring  or  a  stream  with  his  feet  in 
the  water  and  Ikkemotubbe  would  smile  at  David  Hoggan- 
beck and  wave  his  hand.  Then  he  would  overtake  David 
Hogganbeck  and  the  country  was  open  now  and  they  would 
run  side  by  side  in  the  prairies  with  his  hand  lying  lightly 
on  David  Hogganbeck's  shoulder,  not  on  the  top  of  the 
shoulder  but  lightly  against  the  back  of  it  until  after  a  while 
he  would  smile  at  David  Hogganbeck  and  draw  ahead.  But 
then  it  was  sundown,  and  then  it  was  dark  again  so  Ikkemo- 
tubbe slowed  and  then  stopped  until  he  heard  David  Hog- 
ganbeck and  knew  that  David  Hogganbeck  could  hear  him 
and  then  he  ran  again  so  that  David  Hogganbeck  could  fol- 
low the  sound  of  his  running.  So  when  David  Hogganbeck 
fell,  Ikkemotubbe  heard  it  and  went  back  and  found  David 
Hogganbeck  in  the  dark  and  turned  him  onto  his  back  and 
found  water  in  the  dark  and  soaked  his  shirt  in  it  and  re- 
turned and  wrung  the  water  from  the  shirt  into  David  Hog- 
ganbeck's mouth.  And  then  it  was  daylight  and  Ikkemotubbe 
waked  also  and  found  a  nest  containing  five  unfledged  birds 
and  ate  and  brought  the  other  three  to  David  Hogganbeck 
and  then  he  went  on  until  he  was  just  this  side  of  where 
David  Hogganbeck  could  no  longer  see  him  and  sat  down 
again  until  David  Hogganbeck  got  up  onto  his  feet, 

And  he  gave  David  Hogganbeck  the  landmarks  for  that 


376  The  Wilderness 

day  too,  talking  back  to  David  Hogganbeck  over  his  shoul- 
der as  they  ran,  though  David  Hogganbeck  did  not  need 
them  because  he  never  overtook  Ikkemotubbe  again.  He 
never  came  closer  than  fifteen  or  twenty  paces,  although  it 
looked  at  one  time  like  he  was.  Because  this  time  it  was 
Ikkemotubbe  who  fell.  And  the  country  was  open  again  so 
Ikkemotubbe  could  lie  there  for  a  long  time  and  watch 
David  Hogganbeck  coming.  Then  it  was  sunset  again,  and 
then  it  was  dark  again,  and  he  lay  there  listening  to  David 
Hogganbeck  coming  for  a  long  time  until  it  was  time  for 
Ikkemotubbe  to  get  up  and  he  did  and  they  went  on  slowly 
in  the  dark  with  David  Hogganbeck  at  least  a  hundred 
paces  behind  him,  until  he  heard  David  Hogganbeck  fall 
and  then  he  lay  down  too.  Then  it  was  day  again  and  he 
watched  David  Hogganbeck  get  up  onto  his  feet  and  come 
slowly  toward  him  and  at  last  he  tried  to  get  up  too  but  he 
did  not  and  it  looked  like  David  Hogganbeck  was  going  to 
come  up  with  him.  But  he  got  up  at  last  while  David  Hog- 
ganbeck was  still  four  or  five  paces  away  and  they  went  on 
until  David  Hogganbeck  fell,  and  then  Ikkemotubbe  thought 
he  was  just  watching  David  Hogganbeck  fall  until  he  found 
that  he  had  fallen  too  but  he  got  up  onto  his  hands  and  knees 
and  crawled  still  another  ten  or  fifteen  paces  before  he  too 
lay  down.  And  there  in  the  sunset  before  him  was  the  hill 
in  which  the  Cave  was,  and  there  through  the  night,  and 
there  still  in  the  sunrise. 

So  Ikkemotubbe  ran  into  the  Cave  first,  with  his  pistol 
already  cocked  in  his  hand.  He  told  how  he  stopped  perhaps 
for  a  second  at  the  entrance,  perhaps  to  look  at  the  sun 
again  or  perhaps  just  to  see  where  David  Hogganbeck  had 
stopped.  But  David  Hogganbeck  was  running  too  and  he 
was  still  only  that  fifteen  or  twenty  paces  behind,  and  be- 
sides, because  of  that  damned  sister  of  Herman  Basket's, 
there  had  been  no  light  nor  heat  either  in  that  sun  for  moon? 


A  Courtship  377 

and  moons.  So  he  ran  into  the  Cave  and  turned  and  saw 
David  Hogganbeck  also  running  into  the  Cave  and  he  cried, 
"Back,  fool!"  But  David  Hogganbeck  still  ran  into  the  Cave 
even  as  Ikkemotubbe  pointed  his  pistol  at  the  roof  and  fired. 
And  there  was  a  noise,  and  a  rushing,  and  a  blackness  and  a 
dust,  and  Ikkemotubbe  told  how  he  thought,  Aihec.  It 
comes.  But  it  did  not,  and  even  before  the  blackness  he  saw 
David  Hogganbeck  cast  himself  forward  onto  his  hands  and 
knees,  and  there  was  not  a  complete  blackness  either  because 
he  could  see  the  sunlight  and  air  and  day  beyond  the  tunnel 
of  David  Hogganbeck's  arms  and  legs  as,  still  on  his  hands 
and  knees,  David  Hogganbeck  held  the  fallen  roof  upon 
his  back.  "Hurry,"  David  Hogganbeck  said.  "Between  my 
legs.  I  can't — " 

"Nay,  brother,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "Quickly  thyself, 
before  it  crushes  thee.  Crawl  back." 

"Hurry,"  David  Hogganbeck  said  behind  his  teeth. 
"Hurry,  damn  you."  And  Ikkemotubbe  did,  and  he  remem- 
bered David  Hogganbeck's  buttocks  and  legs  pink  in  the 
sunrise  and  the  slab  of  rock  which  supported  the  fallen  roof 
pink  in  the  sunrise  too  across  David  Hogganbeck's  back. 
But  he  did  not  remember  where  he  found  the  pole  nor  how 
he  carried  it  alone  into  the  Cave  and  thrust  it  into  the  hole 
beside  David  Hogganbeck  and  stooped  his  own  back  under 
it  and  lifted  until  he  knew  that  some  at  least  of  the  weight 
of  the  fallen  roof  was  on  the  pole. 

"Now,"  he  said.  "Quickly." 

"No,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

"Quickly,  brother,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "The  weight  is 
off  thee." 

"Then  I  can't  move,"  David  Hogganbeck  said.  But  Ikke- 
motubbe couldn't  move  either,  because  now  he  had  to  hold 
the  fallen  roof  up  with  his  back  and  legs.  So  he  reached  one 
hand  and  grasped  David  Hogganbeck  by  the  meat  and 


378  The  Wilderness 

jerked  him  backward  out  of  the  hole  until  he  lay  face-down 
upon  the  earth.  And  maybe  some  of  the  weight  of  the  fallen 
roof  was  on  the  pole  before,  but  now  all  of  the  weight  was 
on  it  and  Ikkemotubbe  said  how  he  thought,  This  time  surely 
aihee.  But  it  was  the  pole  and  not  his  back  which  snapped 
and  flung  him  face-down  too  across  David  Hogganbeck  like 
two  flung  sticks,  and  a  bright  gout  of  blood  jumped  out  of 
David  Hogganbeck's  mouth. 

But  by  the  second  day  David  Hogganbeck  had  quit 
vomiting  blood,  though  Ikkemotubbe  had  run  hardly  forty 
miles  back  toward  the  Plantation  when  my  father  met  him 
with  the  horse  for  David  Hogganbeck  to  ride.  Presently  my 
father  said,  "I  have  a  news  for  thee." 

"So  you  found  the  pony,"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "All  right. 
Come  on.  Let's  get  that  damned  stupid  fool  of  a  white 
man — " 

"No,  wait,  my  brother,"  my  father  said.  "I  have  a  news 
for  thee." 

And  presently  Ikkemotubbe  said,  "All  right." 

But  when  Captain  Studenmare  borrowed  Issetibbeha's 
wagon  to  go  back  to  Natchez  in,  he  took  the  steamboat 
slaves  too.  So  my  father  and  the  young  men  built  a  fire  in 
the  steamboat's  stomach  to  make  steam  for  it  to  walk,  while 
David  Hogganbeck  sat  in  the  upstairs  and  drew  the  crying- 
rope  from  time  to  time  to  see  if  the  steam  was  strong  enough 
yet,  and  at  each  cry  still  more  of  the  People  came  to  the 
landing  until  at  last  all  the  People  in  the  Plantation  except 
old  Issetibbeha  perhaps  stood  along  the  bank  to  watch  the 
young  men  hurl  wood  into  the  steamboat's  stomach: — a 
thing  never  before  seen  in  our  Plantation  at  least.  Then  the 
steam  was  strong  and  the  steamboat  began  to  walk  and  then 
the  People  began  to  walk  too  beside  the  steamboat,  watch- 
ing the  young  men  for  a  while  then  Ikkemotubbe  and  David 
Hogganbeck  for  a  while  as  the  steamboat  walked  out  of  the 
Plantation  where  hardly  seven  suns  ago  Ikkemotubbe  and 


A  Courtship  379 

David  Hogganbeck  would  sit  all  day  long  and  half  the  night 
too  until  Herman  Basket's  aunt  would  come  out  with  Her- 
man Basket's  dead  uncle's  gun,  on  the  gallery  of  Herman 
Basket's  house  while  Log-in-the-Creek  lay  on  the  floor  with 
his  harmonica  cupped  to  his  mouth  and  Log-in-the-Creek's 
wife  shelled  corn  or  peas  into  old  Dave  Colbert's  wife's 
grand-niece's  second  cousin  by  marriage's  wine  pitcher. 
Presently  Ikkemotubbe  was  gone  completely  away,  to  be 
gone  a  long  time  before  he  came  back  named  Doom,  with 
his  new  white  friend  whom  no  man  wished  to  love  either 
and  the  eight  more  slaves  which  we  had  no  use  for  either 
because  at  times  someone  would  have  to  get  up  and  walk 
somewhere  to  find  something  for  the  ones  we  already  owned 
to  do,  and  the  fine  gold- trimmed  clothes  and  the  little  gold 
box  of  salt  which  caused  the  other  four  puppies  to  become 
dead  too  one  after  another,  and  then  anything  else  which 
happened  to  stand  between  Doom  and  what  he  wanted.  But 
he  was  not  quite  gone  yet.  He  was  just  Ikkemotubbe  yet, 
one  of  the  young  men,  another  of  the  young  men  who  loved 
and  was  not  loved  in  return  and  could  hear  the  words  and 
see  the  fact,  yet  who,  like  the  young  men  who  had  been 
before  him  and  the  ones  who  would  come  after  him,  still 
could  not  understand  it. 

"But  not  for  her!"  Ikkemotubbe  said.  "And  not  even 
because  it  was  Log-in-the-Creek.  Perhaps  they  are  for  my- 
self: that  such  a  son  as  Log-in-the-Creek  could  cause  them 
to  wish  to  flow." 

"Don't  think  about  her,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 

"I  don't.  I  have  already  stopped.  See?"  Ikkemotubbe  said 
while  the  sunset  ran  down  his  face  as  if  it  had  already  been 
rain  instead  of  light  when  it  entered  the  window.  "There 
was  a  wise  man  of  ours  who  said  once  how  a  woman's  fancy 
is  like  a  butterfly  which,  hovering  from  flower  to  flower, 
pauses  at  the  last  as  like  as  not  where  a  horse  has  stood." 

"There  was  a  wise  man  of  ours  named  Solomon  who  often 


380  The  Wilderness 

said  something  of  that  nature  too,"  David  Hogganbeck  said. 
"Perhaps  there  is  just  one  wisdom  for  all  men,  no  matter 
who  speaks  it." 

"Aihee.  At  least,  for  all  men  one  same  heart-break.^ 
Ikkemotubbe  said.  Then  he  drew  the  crying-rope,  because 
the  boat  was  now  passing  the  house  where  Log-in-the-Creek 
and  his  wife  lived,  and  now  the  steamboat  sounded  like  it 
did  the  first  night  while  Captain  Studenmare  still  thought 
David  Hogganbeck  would  come  and  show  it  the  way  back 
to  Natchez,  until  David  Hogganbeck  made  Ikkemotubbe 
stop.  Because  they  would  need  the  steam  because  the  steam- 
boat did  not  always  walk.  Sometimes  it  crawled,  and  each 
time  its  feet  came  up  there  was  mud  on  them,  and  sometimes 
it  did  not  even  crawl  until  David  Hogganbeck  drew  the 
crying-rope  as  the  rider  speaks  to  the  recalcitrant  horse  to 
remind  it  with  his  voice  just  who  is  up.  Then  it  crawled 
again  and  then  it  walked  again,  until  at  last  the  People  could 
no  longer  keep  up,  and  it  cried  once  more  beyond  the  last 
bend  and  then  there  was  no  longer  either  the  black  shapes 
of  the  young  men  leaping  to  hurl  wood  into  its  red  stomach 
or  even  the  sound  of  its  voice  in  the  Plantation  or  the  night. 
That's  how  it  was  in  the  old  days. 


Lof 


THE  PRESIDENT  STOOD  motionless  at  the  door  of  the  Dressing 
Room,  fully  dressed  save  for  his  boots.  It  was  half-past  six  in 
the  morning  and  it  was  snowing;  already  he  had  stood  for  an 
hour  at  the  window,  watching  the  snow.  Now  he  stood  just 
inside  the  door  to  the  corridor,  utterly  motionless  in  his 
stockings,  stooped  a  little  from  his  lean  height  as  though  lis- 
tening, on  his  face  an  expression  of  humorless  concern,  since 
humor  had  departed  from  his  situation  and  his  view  of  it 
almost  three  weeks  before.  Hanging  from  his  hand,  low 
against  his  flank,  was  a  hand  mirror  of  elegant  French  design, 
such  as  should  have  been  lying  upon  a  lady's  dressing  table: 
certainly  at  this  hour  of  a  February  day. 

At  last  he  put  his  hand  on  the  knob  and  opened  the  door 
infinitesimally;  beneath  his  hand  the  door  crept  by  inches  and 
without  any  sound;  still  with  that  infinitesimal  silence  he  put 
his  eye  to  the  crack  and  saw,  lying  upon  the  deep,  rich  pile 
of  the  corridor  carpet,  a  bone.  It  was  a  cooked  bone,  a  rib; 
to  it  still  adhered  close  shreds  of  flesh  holding  in  mute  and 
overlapping  halfmoons  the  marks  of  human  teeth.  Now  that 
the  door  was  open  he  could  hear  the  voices  too.  Still  without 
any  sound,  with  that  infinite  care,  he  raised  and  advanced  the 
mirror.  For  an  instant  he  caught  his  own  reflection  in  it  and 
he  paused  for  a  time  and  with  a  kind  of  cold  unbelief  he 
examined  his  own  face — the  face  of  the  shrewd  and  coura- 


382  The  Wilderness 

geous  fighter,  of  that  wellnigh  infallible  expert  in  the  antici- 
pation of  and  controlling  of  man  and  his  doings,  overlaid 
now  with  the  baffled  helplessness  of  a  child.  Then  he  slanted 
the  glass  a  little  further  until  he  could  see  the  corridor  re- 
flected in  it.  Squatting  and  facing  one  another  across  the 
carpet  as  across  a  stream  of  water  were  two  men.  He  did  not 
know  the  faces,  though  he  knew  the  Face,  since  he  had 
looked  upon  it  by  day  and  dreamed  upon  it  by  night  for 
three  weeks  now.  It  was  a  squat  face,  dark,  a  little  flat,  a  little 
Mongol;  secret,  decorous,  impenetrable,  and  grave.  He  had 
seen  it  repeated  until  he  had  given  up  trying  to  count  it  or 
even  estimate  it;  even  now,  though  he  could  see  the  two  men 
squatting  before  him  and  could  hear  the  two  quiet  voices,  it 
seemed  to  him  that  in  some  idiotic  moment  out  of  attenuated 
sleeplessness  and  strain  he  looked  upon  a  single  man  facing 
himself  in  a  mirror. 

They  wore  beaver  hats  and  new  frock  coats;  save  for  the 
minor  detail  of  collars  and  waistcoats  they  were  impeccably 
dressed — though  a  little  early — for  the  forenoon  of  the  time, 
down  to  the  waist.  But  from  here  down  credulity,  all  sense 
of  fitness  and  decorum,  was  outraged.  At  a  glance  one  would 
have  said  that  they  had  come  intact  out  of  Pickwickian  Eng- 
land, save  that  the  tight,  light-colored  smallclothes  ended  not 
in  Hessian  boots  nor  in  any  boots  at  all,  but  in  dark,  naked 
feet.  On  the  floor  beside  each  one  lay  a  neatly  rolled  bundle 
of  dark  cloth;  beside  each  bundle  in  turn,  mute  toe  and  toe 
and  heel  and  heel,  as  though  occupied  by  invisible  sentries 
facing  one  another  across  the  corridor,  sat  two  pairs  of  new 
boots.  From  a  basket  woven  of  whiteoak  withes  beside  one 
of  the  squatting  men  there  shot  suddenly  the  snake-like  head 
and  neck  of  a  game  cock,  which  glared  at  the  faint  flash  of 
the  mirror  with  a  round,  yellow,  outraged  eye.  It  was  from 
these  that  the  voices  came,  pleasant,  decorous,  quiet: 

"That  rooster  hasn't  done  you  much  good  up  here." 


Lo!  383 

"That's  true.  Still,  who  knows?  Besides,  I  certainly  couldn't 
have  left  him  at  home,  with  those  damned  lazy  Indians.  I 
wouldn't  find  a  feather  left.  You  know  that.  But  it  is  a  nui- 
sance, having  to  lug  this  cage  around  with  me  day  and  night." 

"This  whole  business  is  a  nuisance,  if  you  ask  me." 

"You  said  it.  Squatting  here  outside  this  door  all  night  long, 
without  a  gun  or  anything.  Suppose  bad  men  tried  to  get  in 
during  the  night:  what  could  we  do?  If  anyone  would  want 
to  get  in.  I  don't." 

"Nobody  does.  It's  for  honor." 

"Whose  honor?  Yours?  Mine?  Frank  Weddel's?" 

"White  man's  honor.  You  don't  understand  white  people. 
They  are  like  children:  you  have  to  handle  them  careful  be- 
cause you  never  know  what  they  are  going  to  do  next.  So 
if  it's  the  rule  for  guests  to  squat  all  night  long  in  the  cold 
outside  this  man's  door,  we'll  just  have  to  do  it.  Besides, 
hadn't  you  rather  be  in  here  than  out  yonder  in  the  snow  in 
one  of  those  damn  tents?" 

"You  said  it.  What  a  climate.  What  a  country.  I  wouldn't 
have  this  town  if  they  gave  it  to  me." 

"Of  course  you  wouldn't.  But  that's  white  men:  no  ac- 
counting for  taste.  So  as  long  as  we  are  here,  we'll  have  to  try 
to  act  like  these  people  believe  that  Indians  ought  to  act.  Be- 
cause you  never  know  until  afterward  just  what  you  have 
done  to  insult  or  scare  them.  Like  this  having  to  talk  white 
talk  all  the  time.  .  .  ." 

The  President  withdrew  the  mirror  and  closed  the  door 
quietly.  Once  more  he  stood  silent  and  motionless  in  the  mid- 
dle of  the  room,  his  head  bent,  musing,  baffled  yet  indom- 
itable: indomitable  since  this  was  not  the  first  time  that  he 
had  faced  odds;  baffled  since  he  faced  not  an  enemy  in  the 
open  field,  but  was  besieged  within  his  very  high  and  lonely 
office  by  them  to  whom  he  was,  by  legal  if  not  divine  appoint- 
ment, father.  In  the  iron  silence  of  the  winter  dawn  he 


384  The  Wilderness 

seemed,  clairvoyant  of  walls,  to  be  ubiquitous  and  one  with 
the  waking  of  the  stately  House.  Invisible  and  in  a  kind  of 
musing  horror  he  seemed  to  be  of  each  group  of  his  Southern 
guests — that  one  squatting  without  the  door,  that  larger  one 
like  so  many  figures  carved  of  stone  in  the  very  rotunda  it- 
self of  this  concrete  and  visible  apotheosis  of  the  youthful 
Nation's  pride — in  their  new  beavers  and  frock  coats  and 
woolen  drawers.  With  their  neatly  rolled  pantaloons  under 
their  arms  and  their  virgin  shoes  in  the  other  hand;  dark, 
timeless,  decorous  and  serene  beneath  the  astonished  faces  and 
golden  braid,  the  swords  and  ribbons  and  stars,  of  European 
diplomats. 

The  President  said  quietly,  "Damn.  Damn.  Damn."  He 
moved  and  crossed  the  room,  pausing  to  take  up  his  boots 
from  where  they  sat  beside  a  chair,  and  approached  the  op- 
posite door.  Again  he  paused  and  opened  this  door  too 
quietly  and  carefully,  out  of  the  three  weeks'  habit  of  expect- 
ant fatalism,  though  there  was  only  his  wife  beyond  it, 
sleeping  peacefully  in  bed.  He  crossed  this  room  in  turn,  car- 
rying his  boots,  pausing  to  replace  the  hand  glass  on  the 
dressing  table,  among  its  companion  pieces  of  the  set  which 
the  new  French  Republic  had  presented  to  a  predecessor, 
and  tiptoed  on  and  into  the  anteroom,  where  a  man  in  a  long 
cloak  looked  up  and  then  rose,  also  in  his  stockings.  They 
looked  at  one  another  soberly.  "All  clear?"  the  President  said 
in  a  low  tone. 

"Yes,  General." 

"Good.  Did  you  .  .  ."  The  other  produced  a  second  long, 
plain  cloak.  "Good,  good,"  the  President  said.  He  swung  the 
cloak  about  him  before  the  other  could  move.  "Now  the  . . ." 
This  time  the  other  anticipated  him;  the  President  drew  the 
hat  well  down  over  his  face.  They  left  the  room  on  tiptoe, 
carrying  their  boots  in  their  hands. 

The  back  stairway  was  cold:  their  stockinged  toes  curled 


Lo!  385 

away  from  the  treads,  their  vaporized  breath  wisped  about 
their  heads.  They  descended  quietly  and  sat  on  the  bottom 
step  and  put  on  their  boots. 

Outside  it  still  snowed;  invisible  against  snow-colored  sky 
and  snow-colored  earth,  the  flakes  seemed  to  materialize  with 
violent  and  silent  abruptness  against  the  dark  orifice  of  the 
stables.  Each  bush  and  shrub  resembled  a  white  balloon 
whose  dark  shroud  lines  descended,  light  and  immobile,  to 
the  white  earth.  Interspersed  among  these  in  turn  and  with  a 
certain  regularity  were  a  dozen  vaguely  tent-shaped  mounds, 
from  the  ridge  of  each  of  which  a  small  column  of  smoke 
rose  into  the  windless  snow,  as  if  the  snow  itself  were  in  a 
state  of  peaceful  combustion.  The  President  looked  at  these, 
once,  grimly.  "Get  along,"  he  said.  The  other,  his  head  low- 
ered and  his  cloak  held  closely  about  his  face,  scuttled  on 
and  ducked  into  the  stable.  Perish  the  day  when  these  two 
words  were  applied  to  the  soldier  chief  of  a  party  and  a  na- 
tion, yet  the  President  was  so  close  behind  him  that  their 
breaths  made  one  cloud.  And  perish  the  day  when  the  word 
flight  were  so  applied,  yet  they  had  hardly  vanished  into  the 
stable  when  they  emerged,  mounted  now  and  already  at  a 
canter,  and  so  across  the  lawn  and  past  the  snow-hidden  tents 
and  toward  the  gates  which  gave  upon  that  Avenue  in  em- 
bryo yet  but  which  in  time  would  be  the  stage  upon  which 
each  four  years  would  parade  the  proud  panoply  of  the 
young  Nation's  lusty  man's  estate  for  the  admiration  and 
envy  and  astonishment  of  the  weary  world.  At  the  moment, 
though,  the  gates  were  occupied  by  those  more  immediate 
than  splendid  augurs  of  the  future. 

"Look  out,"  the  other  man  said,  reining  back.  They  reined 
aside — the  President  drew  the  cloak  about  his  face — and  al- 
lowed the  party  to  enter:  the  squat,  broad,  dark  men  dark 
against  the  snow,  the  beaver  hats,  the  formal  coats,  the  solid 
legs  clad  from  thigh  to  ankle  in  woolen  drawers.  Among 


386  The  Wilderness 

them  moved  three  horses  on  whose  backs  were  lashed  the 
carcasses  of  six  deer.  They  passed  on,  passing  the  two  horse- 
men without  a  glance. 

"Damn,  damn,  damn,"  the  President  said;  then  aloud: 
"You  found  good  hunting." 

One  of  the  group  glanced  at  him,  briefly.  He  said  cour- 
teously, pleasantly,  without  inflection,  going  on:  "So  so." 

The  horses  moved  again.  "I  didn't  see  any  guns,"  the  other 
man  said. 

"Yes,"  the  President  said  grimly.  "I  must  look  into  this, 
too.  I  gave  strict  orders.  .  .  ."  He  said  fretfully,  "Damn. 
Damn.  Do  they  carry  their  pantaloons  when  they  go  hunting 
too,  do  you  know?" 

The  Secretary  was  at  breakfast,  though  he  was  not  eating. 
Surrounded  by  untasted  dishes  he  sat,  in  his  dressing  gown 
and  unshaven;  his  expression  too  was  harried  as  he  perused 
the  paper  which  lay  upon  his  empty  plate.  Before  the  fire 
were  two  men — one  a  horseman  with  unmelted  snow  still 
upon  his  cloak,  seated  on  a  wooden  settle,  the  other  standing, 
obviously  the  secretary  to  the  Secretary.  The  horseman  rose 
as  the  President  and  his  companion  entered.  "Sit  down,  sit 
down,"  the  President  said.  He  approached  the  table,  slipping 
off  the  cloak,  which  the  secretary  came  forward  and  took. 
"Give  us  some  breakfast,"  the  President  said.  "We  don't  dare 
go  home."  He  sat  down;  the  Secretary  served  him  in  person. 
"What  is  it  now?"  the  President  said. 

"Do  you  ask?"  the  Secretary  said.  He  took  up  the  paper 
again  and  glared  at  it.  "From  Pennsylvania,  this  time."  He 
struck  the  paper.  "Maryland,  New  York,  and  now  Pennsyl- 
vania; apparently  the  only  thing  that  can  stop  them  is  the 
temperature  of  the  water  in  the  Potomac  River."  He  spoke 
in  a  harsh,  irascible  voice.  "Complaint,  complaint,  complaint: 
here  is  a  farmer  near  Gettysburg.  His  Negro  slave  was  in  the 


Lo!  387 

barn,  milking  by  lantern  light  after  dark,  when — the  Negro 
doubtless  thought  about  two  hundred,  since  the  farmer  esti- 
mated them  at  ten  or  twelve — springing  suddenly  out  of  the 
darkness  in  plug  hats  and  carrying  knives  and  naked  from  the 
waist  down.  Result,  item:  One  barn  and  loft  of  hay  and  cow 
destroyed  when  the  lantern  was  kicked  over;  item:  one  able- 
bodied  slave  last  seen  departing  from  the  scene  at  a  high  rate 
of  speed,  headed  for  the  forest,  and  doubtless  now  dead  of 
fear  or  by  the  agency  of  wild  beasts.  Debit  the  Government 
of  the  United  States:  for  barn  and  hay,  one  hundred  dollars; 
for  cow,  fifteen  dollars;  for  Negro  slave,  two  hundred  dollars. 
He  demands  it  in  gold." 

"Is  that  so?"  the  President  said,  eating  swiftly.  "I  suppose 
the  Negro  and  the  cow  took  them  to  be  ghosts  of  Hessian 
.soldiers." 

"I  wonder  if  they  thought  the  cow  was  a  deer,"  the  horse- 
man said. 

"Yes,"  the  President  said.  "That's  something  else  I 
want.  .  . ." 

"Who  wouldn't  take  them  for  anything  on  earth  or  under 
it?"  the  Secretary  said.  "The  entire  Atlantic  seaboard  north 
of  the  Potomac  River  overrun  by  creatures  in  beaver  hats 
and  frock  coats  and  woolen  drawers,  frightening  women  and 
children,  setting  fire  to  barns  and  running  off  slaves,  killing 
deer.  .  .  ." 

"Yes,"  the  President  said.  "I  want  to  say  a  word  about  that, 
myself.  I  met  a  party  of  them  returning  as  I  came  out.  They 
had  six  deer.  I  thought  I  gave  strict  orders  that  they  were  not 
tD  be  permitted  guns." 

Again  it  was  the  horseman  who  spoke.  "They  don't  use 
guns." 

"What?"  the  President  said.  "But  I  saw  myself  .  .  ." 

"No,  sir.  They  use  knives.  They  track  the  deer  down  and 
slip  up  on  them  and  cut  their  throats." 


388  The  Wilderness 

"What?"  the  President  said. 

"All  right,  sir.  I  seen  one  of  the  deer.  It  never  had  a  mark 
on  it  except  its  throat  cut  up  to  the  neckbone  with  one  lick." 

Again  the  President  said,  "Damn.  Damn.  Damn."  Then  the 
President  ceased  and  the  Soldier  cursed  steadily  for  a  while. 
The  others  listened,  gravely,  their  faces  carefully  averted, 
save  the  Secretary,  who  had  taken  up  another  paper.  "If  you 
could  just  persuade  them  to  keep  their  pantaloons  on,"  the 
President  said.  "At  least  about  the  House. . .  ." 

The  Secretary  started  back,  his  hair  upcrested  like  an  out- 
raged, iron-gray  cockatoo.  "I,  sir?  /  persuade  them?" 

"Why  not?  Aren't  they  subject  to  your  Department?  I'm 
just  the  President.  Confound  it,  it's  got  to  where  my  wife  no 
longer  dares  leave  her  bedroom,  let  alone  receive  lady  guests. 
How  am  I  to  explain  to  the  French  Ambassador,  for  instance, 
why  his  wife  no  longer  dares  call  upon  my  wife  because  the 
corridors  and  the  very  entrance  to  the  House  are  blocked  by 
half-naked  Chickasaw  Indians  asleep  on  the  floor  or  gnawing 
at  half-raw  ribs  of  meat?  And  I,  myself,  having  to  hide  away 
from  my  own  table  and  beg  breakfast,  while  the  official  rep- 
resentative of  the  Government  has  nothing  to  do  but  .  .  ." 

". . .  but  explain  again  each  morning  to  the  Treasury,"  the 
Secretary  said  in  shrill  rage,  "why  another  Dutch  farmer  in 
Pennsylvania  or  New  York  must  have  three  hundred  dollars 
in  gold  in  payment  for  the  destruction  of  his  farm  and  live- 
stock, and  explain  to  the  State  Department  that  the  capital  is 
not  being  besieged  by  demons  from  hell  itself,  and  explain  to 
the  War  Department  why  twelve  brand-new  army  tents 
must  be  ventilated  at  the  top  with  butcher  knives.  .  . ." 

"I  noticed  that,  too,"  the  President  said  mildly.  "I  had  for- 
got it." 

"Ha.  Your  Excellency  noted  it,"  the  Secretary  said 
fiercely.  "Your  Excellency  saw  it  and  then  forgot  it.  I  have 
neither  seen  it  nor  been  permitted  to  forget  it.  And  now 


Lo!  389 

Your  Excellency  wonders  why  /  do  not  persuade  them  to 
wear  their  pantaloons." 

"It  does  seem  like  they  would,"  the  President  said  fretfully. 
"The  other  garments  seem  to  please  them  well  enough.  But 
there's  no  accounting  for  taste."  He  ate  again.  The  Secretary 
looked  at  him,  about  to  speak.  Then  he  did  not.  As  he 
watched  the  oblivious  President  a  curious,  secret  expression 
came  into  his  face;  his  gray  and  irate  crest  settled  slowly,  as 
if  it  were  deflating  itself.  When  he  spoke  now  his  tone  was 
bland,  smooth;  now  the  other  three  men  were  watching  the 
President  with  curious,  covert  expressions. 

"Yes,"  the  Secretary  said,  "there's  no  accounting  for  taste. 
Though  it  does  seem  that  when  one  has  been  presented  with 
a  costume  as  a  mark  of  both  honor  and  esteem,  let  alone 
decorum,  and  by  the  chief  of  a  well,  tribe  .  .  ." 

"That's  what  I  thought,"  the  President  said  innocently. 
Then  he  ceased  chewing  and  said  "Eh?"  sharply,  looking  up. 
The  three  lesser  men  looked  quickly  away,  but  the  Secretary 
continued  to  watch  the  President  with  that  bland,  secret  ex- 
pression. "What  the  devil  do  you  mean?"  the  President  said. 
He  knew  what  the  Secretary  meant,  just  as  the  other  three 
knew.  A  day  or  two  after  his  guest  had  arrived  without 
warning,  and  after  the  original  shock  had  somewhat  abated, 
the  President  had  decreed  the  new  clothing  for  them.  He 
commanded,  out  of  his  own  pocket,  merchants  and  hatters  as 
he  would  have  commanded  gunsmiths  and  bulletmakers  in 
war  emergency;  incidentally  he  was  thus  able  to  estimate  the 
number  of  them,  the  men  at  least,  and  within  forty-eight 
hours  he  had  transformed  his  guest's  grave  and  motley  train 
into  the  outward  aspect  of  decorum  at  least.  Then,  two  morn- 
ings after  that,  the  guest — the  half  Chickasaw,  half  French- 
man, the  squat,  obese  man  with  the  face  of  a  Gascon  brigand 
and  the  mannerisms  of  a  spoiled  eunuch  and  dingy  lace  at 
throat  and  wrist,  who  for  three  weeks  now  had  doerged  his 


390  The  Wilderness 

waking  hours  and  his  sleeping  dreams  with  bland  inescapa- 
bility — called  formally  upon  him  while  he  and  his  wife  were 
still  in  bed  at  five  o'clock  in  the  morning,  with  two  of  his 
retainers  carrying  a  bundle  and  what  seemed  to  the  President 
at  least  a  hundred  others,  men,  women  and  children,  throng- 
ing quietly  into  the  bedroom,  apparently  to  watch  him  array 
himself  in  it.  For  it  was  a  costume — even  in  the  shocked 
horror  of  the  moment,  the  President  found  time  to  wonder 
wildly  where  in  the  capital  Weddel  (or  Vidal)  had  found  it 
— a  mass,  a  network,  of  gold  braid — frogs,  epaulets,  sash  and 
sword — held  loosely  together  by  bright  green  cloth  and  pre- 
sented to  him  in  return.  This  is  what  the  Secretary  meant, 
while  the  President  glared  at  him  and  while  behind  them  both 
the  three  other  men  stood  looking  at  the  fire  with  immobile 
gravity.  "Have  your  joke,"  the  President  said.  "Have  it 
quickly.  Are  you  done  laughing  now?" 

"I  laugh?"  the  Secretary  said.  "At  what?" 

"Good,"  the  President  said.  He  thrust  the  dishes  from  him. 
"Then  we  can  get  down  to  business.  Have  you  any  docu- 
ments you  will  need  to  refer  to?" 

The  Secretary's  secretary  approached.  "Shall  I  get  the 
other  papers,  sir?" 

"Papers?"  the  Secretary  said;  once  more  his  crest  began  to 
rise.  "What  the  devil  do  I  need  with  papers?  What  else  have 
I  thought  about  night  and  day  for  three  weeks?" 

"Good;  good,"  the  President  said.  "Suppose  you  review 
the  matter  briefly,  in  case  I  have  forgot  anything  else." 

"Your  Excellency  is  indeed  a  fortunate  man,  if  you  have 
been  able  to  forget,"  the  Secretary  said.  From  the  pocket  of 
his  dressing  gown  he  took  a  pair  of  steel-bowed  spectacles. 
But  he  used  them  merely  to  glare  again  at  the  President  in 
cockatoo-crested  outrage.  "This  man,  Weddel,  Vidal — whats 
ever  his  name  is — he  and  his  family  or  clan  or  whatever  they 
are — claim  to  own  the  entire  part  of  Mississippi  which  lies 


Lo!  391 

on  the  west  side  of  this  river  in  question.  Oh,  the  grant  is  in 
order:  that  French  father  of  his  from  New  Orleans  saw  to 
that. — Well,  it  so  happens  that  facing  his  home  or  plantation 
is  the  only  ford  in  about  three  hundred  miles." 

"I  know  all  this,"  the  President  said  impatiently.  "Nat- 
urally I  regret  now  that  there  was  any  way  of  crossing  the 
river  at  all.  But  otherwise  I  don't  see  .  .  ." 

"Neither  did  they,"  the  Secretary  said.  "Until  the  white 
man  came." 

"Ah,"  the  President  said.  "The  man  who  was  mur  . . ." 

The  Secretary  raised  his  hand.  "Wait.  He  stayed  about  a 
month  with  them,  ostensibly  hunting,  since  he  would  be  ab- 
sent all  day  long,  though  obviously  what  he  was  doing  was 
assuring  himself  that  there  was  no  other  ford  close  by.  He 
never  brought  any  game  in;  I  imagine  they  laughed  at  that  a 
good  deal,  in  their  pleasant  way." 

"Yes,"  the  President  said.  "Weddel  must  have  found  that 
very  amusing." 

".  .  .  or  Vidal — whatever  his  name  is,"  the  Secretary  said 
fretfully.  "He  don't  even  seem  to  know  or  even  to  care  what 
his  own  name  is." 

"Get  on,"  the  President  said.  "About  the  ford." 

"Yes.  Then  one  day,  after  a  month,  the  white  man  offered 
to  buy  some  of  Weddel's  land — Weddel,  Vidal — Damn, 
da  .  .  ." 

"Call  him  Weddel,"  the  President  said. 

". . .  from  Weddel.  Not  much;  a  piece  about  the  size  of  this 

room,  for  which  Weddel  or  V charged  him  about  ten 

prices.  Not  out  of  any  desire  for  usufruct,  you  understand; 
doubtless  Weddel  would  have  given  the  man  the  land  or 
anyway  wagered  it  on  a  game  of  mumble  peg,  it  not  having 
yet  occurred  to  any  of  them  apparently  that  the  small  plot 
which  the  man  wanted  contained  the  only  available  entrance 
to  or  exit  from  the  ford.  Doubtless  the  trading  protracted  it- 


392  The  Wilderness 

self  over  several  days  or  perhaps  weeks,  as  a  kind  of  game  to 
while  away  otherwise  idle  afternoons  or  evenings,  with  the 
bystanders  laughing  heartily  and  pleasantly  at  the  happy 
scene.  They  must  have  laughed  a  great  deal,  especially  when 
the  man  paid  Weddel's  price;  they  must  have  laughed  hugely 
indeed  later  when  they  watched  the  white  man  out  in  the 
sun,  building  a  fence  around  his  property,  it  doubtless  not 
even  then  occurring  to  them  that  what  the  white  man  had 
done  was  to  fence  off  the  only  entrance  to  the  ford." 

"Yes,"  the  President  said  impatiently.  "But  I  still  don't 
see  . . ." 

Again  the  Secretary  lifted  his  hand,  pontifical,  admonitory. 
"Neither  did  they;  not  until  the  first  traveler  came  along  and 
crossed  at  the  ford.  The  white  man  had  built  himself  a  toll- 
gate." 

"Oh,"  the  President  said. 

"Yes.  And  now  it  must  have  been,  indeed,  amusing  for 
them  to  watch  the  white  man  sitting  now  in  the  shade — he 
had  a  deerskin  pouch  fastened  to  a  post  for  the  travelers  to 
drop  their  coins  in,  and  the  gate  itself  arranged  so  he  could 
operate  it  by  a  rope  from  the  veranda  of  his  one-room  domi- 
cile without  having  to  even  leave  his  seat;  and  to  begin  to 
acquire  property — among  which  was  the  horse." 

"Ah,"  the  President  said.  "Now  we  are  getting  at  it." 

"Yes.  They  got  at  it  swiftly  from  then  on.  It  seems  that 
the  match  was  between  the  white  man's  horse  and  this  neph- 
ew's horse,  the  wager  the  ford  and  tollgate  against  a  thousand 
or  so  acres  of  land.  The  nephew's  horse  lost.  And  that 
night .  .  ." 

"Ah,"  the  President  said.  "I  see.  And  that  night  the  white 
man  was  mur  .  .  ." 

"Let  us  say,  died,"  the  Secretary  said  primly,  "since  it  is  so 
phrased  in  the  agent's  report.  Though  he  did  add  in  a  private 


Lo!  393 

communication  that  the  white  man's  disease  seemed  to  be  a 
split  skull.  But  that  is  neither  here  nor  there." 

"No,"  the  President  said.  "It's  up  yonder  at  the  House." 
Where  they  had  been  for  three  weeks  now,  men,  women, 
children  and  Negro  slaves,  coming  for  fifteen  hundred  miles 
in  slow  wagons  since  that  day  in  late  autumn  when  the 
Chickasaw  agent  had  appeared  to  inquire  into  the  white  man's 
death.  For  fifteen  hundred  miles,  across  winter  swamps  and 
rivers,  across  the  trackless  eastern  backbone  of  the  continent, 
led  by  the  bland,  obese  mongrel  despot  and  patriarch  in  a 
carriage,  dozing,  his  nephew  beside  him  and  one  fat,  ringed 
hand  beneath  its  fall  of  soiled  lace  lying  upon  the  nephew's 
knee  to  hold  him  in  charge.  "Why  didn't  the  agent  stop 
him?"  the  President  said. 

"Stop  him?"  the  Secretary  cried.  "He  finally  compromised 
to  the  extent  of  offering  to  allow  the  nephew  to  be  tried  on 
the  spot,  by  the  Indians  themselves,  he  reserving  only  the  in- 
tention of  abolishing  the  tollgate,  since  no  one  knew  the 
white  man  anyway.  But  no.  The  nephew  must  come  to  you, 
to  be  absolved  or  convicted  in  person." 

"But  couldn't  the  agent  stop  the  rest  of  them?  Keep  the 
rest  of  them  from  .  .  ." 

"Stop  them?"  the  Secretary  cried  again.  "Listen.  He 
moved  in  there  and  lived — Weddel,  Vi — Damn!  damn!! 
Where  was — Yes.  Weddel  told  him  that  the  house  was  his; 
soon  it  was.  Because  how  could  he  tell  there  were  fewer  faces 
present  each  morning  than  the  night  before?  Could  you  have? 
Could  you  now?" 

"I  wouldn't  try,"  the  President  said.  "I  would  just  declare 
a  national  thanksgiving.  So  they  slipped  away  at  night." 

"Yes.  Weddel  and  the  carriage  and  a  few  forage  wagons 
went  first;  they  had  been  gone  about  a  month  before  the 
agent  realized  that  each  morning  the  number  which  remained 
had  diminished  somewhat.  They  would  load  the  wagons  and 


394  The  Wilderness 

go  at  night,  by  families — grandparents,  parents,  children; 
slaves,  chattels  and  dogs — everything.  And  why  not?  Why 
should  they  deny  themselves  this  holiday  at  the  expense  of 
the  Government?  Why  should  they  miss,  at  the  mere  price 
of  a  fifteen-hundred-mile  journey  through  unknown  coun- 
try in  the  dead  of  winter,  the  privilege  and  pleasure  of  spend- 
ing a  few  weeks  or  months  in  new  beavers  and  broadcloth 
coats  and  underdrawers,  in  the  home  of  the  beneficent  White 
Fafher?" 

"Yes,"  the  President  said.  He  said:  "And  you  have  told  him 
that  there  is  no  charge  here  against  this  nephew? " 

"Yes.  And  that  if  they  will  go  back  home,  the  agent  him- 
self will  declare  the  nephew  innocent  publicly,  in  whatever 
ceremony  they  think  fit.  And  he  said — how  was  it  he  put  it?" 
The  Secretary  now  spoke  in  a  pleasant,  almost  lilting  tone,  in 
almost  exact  imitation  of  the  man  whom  he  repeated:  'All 
we  desire  is  justice.  If  this  foolish  boy  has  murdered  a  white 
man,  I  think  that  we  should  know  it." 

"Damn,  damn,  damn,"  the  President  said.  "All  right.  We'll 
hold  the  investigation.  Get  them  down  here  and  let's  have  it 
over  with." 

"Here?"  The  Secretary  started  back.  "In  my  house?" 

"Why  not?  I've  had  them  for  three  weeks;  at  least  you  can 
have  them  for  an  hour."  He  turned  to  the  companion. 
"Hurry.  Tell  them  we  are  waiting  here  to  hold  his  nephew's 
trial." 

And  now  the  President  and  the  Secretary  sat  behind  the 
cleared  table  and  looked  at  the  man  who  stood  as  though 
framed  by  the  opened  doors  through  which  he  had  entered, 
holding  his  nephew  by  the  hand  like  an  uncle  conducting  for 
the  first  time  a  youthful  provincial  kinsman  into  a  metro- 
politan museum  of  wax  figures.  Immobile,  they  contem- 
plated the  soft,  paunchy  man  facing  them  with  his  soft,  bland, 


Lo!  395 

inscrutable  face — the  long,  monk-like  nose,  the  slumbrous 
lids,  the  flabby,  cafe-au-lait-colored  jowls  above  a  froth  of 
soiled  lace  of  an  elegance  fifty  years  outmoded  and  vanished; 
the  mouth  was  full,  small,  and  very  red.  Yet  somewhere  be- 
hind the  face's  expression  of  flaccid  and  weary  disillusion,  as 
behind  the  bland  voice  and  the  almost  feminine  mannerisms, 
there  lurked  something  else:  something  willful,  shrewd,  un- 
predictable and  despotic.  Behind  him  clotted,  quiet  and 
gravely  decorous,  his  dark  retinue  in  beavers  and  broadcloth 
and  woolen  drawers,  each  with  his  neatly  rolled  pantaloons 
beneath  his  arm. 

For  a  moment  longer  he  stood,  looking  from  face  to  face 
until  he  found  the  President.  He  said,  in  a  voice  of  soft  re- 
proach: "This  is  not  your  house/' 

"No,"  the  President  said.  "This  is  the  house  of  this  chief 
whom  I  have  appointed  myself  to  be  the  holder  of  justice 
between  me  and  my  Indian  people.  He  will  deal  justice  to 
you." 

The  uncle  bowed  slightly.  "That  is  all  that  we  desire." 

"Good,"  the  President  said.  On  the  table  before  him  sat 
inkstand,  quill,  and  sandbox,  and  many  papers  with  ribbons 
and  golden  seals  much  in  evidence,  though  none  could  have 
said  if  the  heavy  gaze  had  remarked  them  or  not.  The  Presi- 
dent looked  at  the  nephew.  Young,  lean,  the  nephew  stood, 
his  right  wrist  clasped  by  his  uncle's  fat,  lace-foamed  hand, 
and  contemplated  the  President  quietly,  with  grave  and  alert 
repose.  The  President  dipped  the  quill  into  the  ink.  "Is  this 
the  man  who  .  . ." 

"Who  performed  this  murder?"  the  uncle  said  pleasantly. 
"That  is  what  we  made  this  long  winter's  journey  to  dis- 
cover. If  he  did,  if  this  white  man  really  did  not  fall  from  that 
swift  horse  of  his  perhaps  and  strike  his  head  upon  a  sharp 
stone,  then  this  nephew  of  mine  should  be  punished.  We  do 
not  think  that  it  is  right  to  slay  white  men  like  a  confounded 


396  The  Wilderness 

Cherokee  or  Creek."  Perfectly  inscrutable,  perfectly  deco- 
rous, he  looked  at  the  two  exalted  personages  playing  behind 
the  table  their  clumsy  deception  with  dummy  papers;  for  an 
instant  the  President  himself  met  the  slumbrous  eyes  and 
looked  down.  The  Secretary  though,  upthrust,  his  crest 
roached  violently  upward,  glared  at  the  uncle. 

"You  should  have  held  this  horse-race  across  the  ford  it- 
self," he  said.  "Water  wouldn't  have  left  that  gash  in  the 
white  man's  skull." 

The  President,  glancing  quickly  up,  saw  the  heavy,  secret 
face  musing  upon  the  Secretary  with  dark  speculation.  But 
almost  immediately  the  uncle  spoke.  "So  it  would.  But  this 
white  man  would  have  doubtless  required  a  coin  of  money 
from  my  nephew  for  passing  through  his  gate."  Then  he 
laughed,  mirthful,  pleasant,  decorous.  "Perhaps  it  would  have 
been  better  for  that  white  man  if  he  had  allowed  my  nephew 
to  pass  through  free.  But  that  is  neither  here  nor  there  now." 

"No,"  the  President  said,  almost  sharply,  so  that  they 
looked  at  him  again.  He  held  the  quill  above  the  paper, 
"What  is  the  correct  name?  Weddel  or  Vidal?" 

Again  the  pleasant,  inflectionless  voice  came:  "Weddel  or 
Vidal.  What  does  it  matter  by  what  name  the  White  Chief 
calls  us?  We  are  but  Indians:  remembered  yesterday  and  for- 
gotten tomorrow." 

The  President  wrote  upon  the  paper.  The  quill  scratched 
steadily  in  the  silence  in  which  there  was  but  one  other 
sound:  a  faint,  steady,  minor  sound  which  seemed  to  emerge 
from  the  dark  and  motionless  group  behind  the  uncle  and 
nephew.  He  sanded  what  he  had  written  and  folded  it  and 
rose  and  stood  for  a  moment  so  while  they  watched  him 
quietly — the  soldier  who  had  commanded  men  well  on  more 
occasions  than  this.  "Your  nephew  is  not  guilty  of  this  mur- 
der. My  chief  whom  I  have  appointed  to  hold  justice  be* 


Lo!  397 

tween  us  says  for  him  to  return  home  and  never  do  this  again, 
because  next  time  he  will  be  displeased." 

His  voice  died  into  a  shocked  silence;  even  for  that  instant 
the  heavy  lids  fluttered,  while  from  the  dark  throng  behind 
him  that  faint,  unceasing  sound  of  quiet  scratching  by  heat 
and  wool  engendered,  like  a  faint,  constant  motion  of  the 
sea,  also  ceased  for  an  instant.  The  uncle  spoke  in  a  tone  of 
shocked  unbelief:  "My  nephew  is  free?" 

"He  is  free,"  the  President  said.  The  uncle's  shocked  gaze 
traveled  about  the  room. 

"This  quick?  And  in  here?  In  this  house?  I  had  thought. 
.  .  .  But  no  matter."  They  watched  him;  again  the  face  was 
smooth,  enigmatic,  blank.  "We  are  only  Indians;  doubtless 
these  busy  white  men  have  but  little  time  for  our  small  affairs. 
Perhaps  we  have  already  incommoded  them  too  much." 

"No,  no,"  the  President  said  quickly.  "To  me,  my  Indian 
and  my  white  people  are  the  same."  But  again  the  uncle's 
gaze  was  traveling  quietly  about  the  room;  standing  side  by 
side,  the  President  and  the  Secretary  could  feel  from  one  to 
another  the  same  dawning  alarm.  After  a  while  the  President 
said:  "Where  had  you  expected  this  council  to  be  held?" 

The  uncle  looked  at  him.  "You  will  be  amused.  In  my  ig- 
norance I  had  thought  that  even  our  little  affair  would  have 
been  concluded  in  ...  But  no  matter." 

"In  what?"  the  President  said. 

The  bland,  heavy  face  mused  again  upon  him  for  a  mo- 
ment. "You  will  laugh;  nevertheless,  I  will  obey  you.  In  the 
big  white  council  house  beneath  the  golden  eagle." 

"What?"  the  Secretary  cried,  starting  again.  "In  the  .  .  ." 

The  uncle  looked  away.  "I  said  that  you  would  be  amused. 
But  no  matter.  We  will  have  to  wait,  anyway." 

"Have  to  wait?"  the  President  said.  "For  what?" 

"This  is  really  amusing,"  the  uncle  said.  He  laughed  again, 
in  his  tone  of  mirthful  detachment.  "More  of  my  people  are 


398  The  Wilderness 

about  to  arrive.  We  can  wait  for  them,  since  they  will  wish 
to  see  and  hear  also."  No  one  exclaimed  at  all  now,  not  even 
the  Secretary.  They  merely  stared  at  him  while  the  bland 
voice  went  on:  "It  seems  that  some  of  them  mistook  the 
town.  They  had  heard  the  name  of  the  White  Chief's  capital 
spoken,  but  it  so  happens  that  there  is  also  a  town  in  our  coun- 
try with  the  same  name,  so  that  when  some  of  the  People 
inquired  on  the  road,  they  became  misdirected  and  went 
there  instead,  poor  ignorant  Indians."  He  laughed,  with  fond 
and  mirthful  tolerance  behind  his  enigmatic  and  sleepy  face. 
"But  a  messenger  has  arrived;  they  will  arrive  themselves 
within  the  week.  Then  we  will  see  about  punishing  this  head- 
strong boy."  He  shook  the  nephew's  arm  lightly.  Except  for 
this  the  nephew  did  not  move,  watching  the  President  with 
his  grave  and  unwinking  regard. 

For  a  long  moment  there  was  no  sound  save  the  faint, 
steady  scratching  of  the  Indians.  Then  the  Secretary  began  to 
speak,  patiently,  as  though  addressing  a  child:  "Look.  Your 
nephew  is  free.  This  paper  says  that  he  did  not  slay  the  white 
man  and  that  no  man  shall  so  accuse  him  again,  else  both  I 
and  the  great  chief  beside  me  will  be  angered.  He  can  return 
home  now,  at  once.  Let  all  of  you  return  home  at  once.  For 
is  it  not  well  said  that  the  graves  of  a  man's  fathers  are  never 
quiet  in  his  absence?" 

Again  there  was  silence.  Then  the  President  said,  "Besides, 
the  white  council  house  beneath  the  golden  eagle  is  being 
used  now  by  a  council  of  chiefs  who  are  more  powerful  there 
than  I  am." 

The  uncle's  hand  lifted;  foamed  with  soiled  lace,  his  fore- 
finger waggled  in  reproachful  deprecation.  "Do  not  ask  even 
an  ignorant  Indian  to  believe  that,"  he  said.  Then  he  said, 
with  no  change  of  inflection  whatever;  the  Secretary  did  not 
know  until  the  President  told  him  later,  that  the  uncle  was 
now  addressing  him:  "And  these  chiefs  will  doubtless  be  oc- 


Lo!  399 

copying  the  white  council  hut  for  some  time  yet,  I  suppose." 

"Yes,"  the  Secretary  said.  "Until  the  last  snow  of  winter 
has  melted  among  the  flowers  and  the  green  grass." 

"Good,"  the  uncle  said.  "We  will  wait,  then.  Then  the 
rest  of  the  People  will  have  time  to  arrive." 

And  so  it  was  that  up  that  Avenue  with  a  high  destiny  the 
cavalcade  moved  in  the  still  falling  snow,  led  by  the  carriage 
containing  the  President  and  the  uncle  and  nephew,  the  fat, 
ringed  hand  lying  again  upon  the  nephew's  knee,  and  fol- 
lowed by  a  second  carriage  containing  the  Secretary  and  his 
secretary,  and  this  followed  in  turn  by  two  files  of  soldiers 
between  which  walked  the  dark  and  decorous  cloud  of  men, 
women  and  children  on  foot  and  in  arms;  so  it  was  that  be- 
hind the  Speaker's  desk  of  that  chamber  which  was  to  womb 
and  contemplate  the  high  dream  of  a  destiny  superior  to  the 
injustice  of  events  and  the  folly  of  mankind,  the  President 
and  the  Secretary  stood,  while  below  them,  ringed  about  by 
the  living  manipulators  of,  and  interspersed  by  the  august 
and  watching  ghosts  of  the  dreamers  of,  the  destiny,  the 
uncle  and  nephew  stood,  with  behind  them  the  dark  throng 
of  kin  and  friends  and  acquaintances  from  among  which 
came  steadily  and  unabated  that  faint  sound  of  wool  and 
flesh  in  friction.  The  President  leaned  to  the  Secretary. 

"Are  they  ready  with  the  cannon?"  he  whispered.  "Are 
you  sure  they  can  see  my  arm  from  the  door?  And  suppose 
those  damned  guns  explode:  they  have  not  been  fired  since 
Washington  shot  them  last  at  Cornwallis:  will  they  impeach 
me?" 

"Yes,"  the  Secretary  hissed. 

"Then  God  help  us.  Give  me  the  book."  The  Secretary 
passed  it  to  him:  it  was  Petrarch's  Sonnets,  which  the  Secre- 
tary had  snatched  from  his  table  in  passing.  "Let  us  hope  that 
I  remember  enough  law  Latin  to  keep  it  from  sounding  like 
either  English  or  Chickasaw,"  the  President  said.  He  opened 


400  The  Wilderness 

the  book,  and  then  again  the  President,  the  conqueror  of 
men,  the  winner  of  battles  diplomatic,  legal  and  martial,  drew 
himself  erect  and  looked  down  upon  the  dark,  still,  intent, 
waiting  faces;  when  he  spoke  his  voice  was  the  voice  which 
before  this  had  caused  men  to  pause  and  attend  and  then 
obey:  "Francis  Weddel,  chief  in  the  Chickasaw  Nation,  and 
you,  nephew  of  Francis  Weddel  and  some  day  to  be  a  chief, 
hear  my  words."  Then  he  began  to  read.  His  voice  was  full, 
sonorous,  above  the  dark  faces,  echoing  about  the  august 
dome  in  profound  and  solemn  syllables.  He  read  ten  sonnets. 
Then,  with  his  arm  lifted,  he  perorated;  his  voice  died  pro- 
foundly away  and  he  dropped  his  arm.  A  moment  later,  from 
outside  the  building,  came  a  ragged  crash  of  artillery.  And 
now  for  the  first  time  the  dark  throng  stirred;  from  among 
them  came  a  sound,  a  murmur,  of  pleased  astonishment.  The 
President  spoke  again:  "Nephew  of  Francis  Weddel,  you  are 
free.  Return  to  your  home." 

And  now  the  uncle  spoke;  again  his  finger  waggled  from 
out  its  froth  of  lace.  "Heedless  boy,"  he  said.  "Consider  the 
trouble  which  you  have  caused  these  busy  men."  He  turned 
to  the  Secretary,  almost  briskly;  again  his  voice  was  bland, 
pleasant,  almost  mirthful:  "And  now,  about  the  little  matter 
of  this  cursed  ford.  .  .  ." 

With  the  autumn  sun  falling  warmly  and  pleasantly  across 
his  shoulders,  the  President  said,  "That  is  all,"  quietly  and 
turned  to  his  desk  as  the  secretary  departed.  While  he  took 
up  the  letter  and  opened  it  the  sun  fell  upon  his  hands  and 
upon  the  page,  with  its  inference  of  the  splendid  dying  of 
the  year,  of  approaching  harvests  and  of  columns  of  quiet 
wood  smoke — serene  pennons  of  peace — above  peaceful 
chimneys  about  the  land. 

Suddenly  the  President  started;  he  sprang  up,  the  letter  in 
his  hand,  glaring  at  it  in  shocked  and  alarmed  consternation 


Lo!  401 

while  the  bland  words  seemed  to  explode  one  by  one  in  his 
comprehension  like  musketry: 

Dear  sir  and  friend: 

This  is  really  amusing.  Again  this  hot-headed  nephew — 
he  must  have  taken  his  character  from  his  father's  people, 
since  it  is  none  of  mine — has  come  to  trouble  you  and  me.  It 
is  this  cursed  ford  again.  Another  white  man  came  among  us, 
to  hunt  in  peace  we  thought,  since  God's  forest  and  the  deer 
which  He  put  in  it  belong  to  all.  But  he  too  became  obsessed 
with  the  idea  of  owning  this  ford,  having  heard  tales  of  his 
own  kind  who,  after  the  curious  and  restless  fashion  of  white 
men,  find  one  side  of  a  stream  of  water  superior  enough  to 
the  other  to  pay  coins  of  money  for  the  privilege  of  reaching 
it.  So  the  affair  was  arranged  as  this  white  man  desired  it. 
Perhaps  I  did  wrong,  you  will  say.  But — do  I  need  to  tell 
you? — /  am  a  simple  man  and  some  day  I  shall  be  old,  I  trust, 
and  the  continuous  interruption  of  these  white  men  who 
wish  to  cross  and  the  collecting  and  care  of  the  coins  of 
money  is  only  a  nuisance.  For  what  can  money  be  to  me, 
whose  destiny  it  apparently  is  to  spend  my  declining  years 
beneath  the  shade  of  familiar  trees  from  whose  peaceful 
shade  my  great  white  friend  and  chief  has  removed  the  face 
of  every  enemy  save  death?  That  was  my  thought,  but  when 
you  read  farther  you  will  see  that  it  was  not  to  be. 

Once  more  it  is  this  rash  and  heedless  boy.  It  seems  that  he 
challenged  this  new  white  man  of  ours  (or  the  white  man 
challenged  him:  the  truth  /  will  leave  to  your  unerring  wis- 
dom to  unravel)  to  a  swimming  race  in  the  river,  the  stakes 
to  be  this  cursed  ford  against  a  few  miles  of  land,  which 
(this  will  amuse  you)  this  wild  nephew  of  mine  did  not  even 
own.  The  race  took  place,  but  unfortunately  our  white  man 
failed  to  emerge  from  the  river  until  after  he  was  dead.  And 
now  your  agent  has  arrived*  and  he  seems  to  feel  that  perhaps 


402  The  Wilderness 

this  swimming  race  should  not  have  taken  place  at  all.  And 
so  now  there  is  nothing  for  me  to  do  save  to  bestir  old  bones 
and  bring  this  rash  boy  to  you  for  you  to  reprimand  him.  We 
'"  arrive  in  about  .  .  . 


The  President  sprang  to  the  bell  and  pulled  it  violently. 
When  his  secretary  entered,  he  grasped  the  man  by  the 
shoulders  and  whirled  him  toward  the  door  again.  "Get  me 
the  Secretary  of  War,  and  maps  of  all  the  country  between 
here  and  New  Orleans!"  he  cried.  "Hurry." 

And  so  again  we  see  him;  the  President  is  absent  now  and 
it  is  the  Soldier  alone  who  sits  with  the  Secretary  of  War 
behind  the  map-strewn  table,  while  there  face  them  the 
officers  of  a  regiment  of  cavalry.  At  the  table  his  secretary  is 
writing  furiously  while  the  President  looks  over  his  shoulder. 
"Write  it  big,"  he  says,  "so  that  even  an  Indian  cannot  mis- 
take it.  Know  all  men  by  these  presents"  he  quotes.  "Francis 
Weddel  his  heirs,  descendants  and  assigns  from  now  on  in 
perpetuity  .  .  .  provided — Have  you  got  provided?  Good — 
provided  that  neither  he  nor  his  do  ever  again  cross  to  the 
eastern  side  of  the  above  described  River.  .  .  .  And  now  to 
that  damned  agent,"  he  said.  "The  sign  must  be  in  duplicate, 
at  both  ends  of  the  ford:  The  United  States  accepts  no  re- 
sponsibility for  any  man,  woman  or  child,  black,  white,  yel- 
low or  red,  who  crosses  this  ford,  and  no  white  man  shall  buy, 
lease  or  accept  it  as  a  gift  save  under  the  severest  penalty  of 
the  law.  Can  I  do  that?" 

"I'm  afraid  not,  Your  Excellency,"  the  Secretary  said. 
The  President  mused  swiftly.  "Damn,"  he  said.  "Strike  out 
The  United  States,  then."  The  Secretary  did  so.  The  Presi- 
dent folded  the  two  papers  and  handed  them  to  the  cavalry 
colonel.  "Ride,"  he  said.  "Your  orders  are,  Stop  them." 

"Suppose  they  refuse  to  stop,"  the  colonel  said.  "Shall  I 
fire  then?" 


Lo!  403 

"Yes,"  the  President  said.  "Shoot  every  horse,  mule,  and 
ox.  I  know  they  won't  walk.  Off  with  you,  now."  The  offi- 
cers withdrew.  The  President  turned  back  to  the  maps — the 
Soldier  still:  eager,  happy,  as  though  he  rode  himself  with 
the  regiment,  or  as  if  in  spirit  already  he  deployed  it  with 
that  shrewd  cunning  which  could  discern  and  choose  the 
place  most  disadvantageous  to  the  enemy,  and  get  there  first. 
"It  will  be  here,"  he  said.  He  put  his  finger  on  the  map.  "A 
horse,  General,  that  I  may  meet  him  here  and  turn  his  flank 
and  drive  him." 

"Done,  General,"  the  Secretary  said. 


IV  •  THE  WASTELAND 


Ad  Astra 

Victory 

Crevasse 

Turnabout 

All  the  Dead  Pilots 


Ad  Astra 


I  DONT  KNOW  what  we  were.  With  the  exception  of  Comyn, 
we  had  started  out  Americans,  but  after  three  years,  in  our 
British  tunics  and  British  wings  and  here  and  there  a  ribbon, 
I  dont  suppose  we  had  even  bothered  in  three  years  to 
wonder  what  we  were,  to  think  or  to  remember. 

And  on  that  day,  that  evening,  we  were  even  less  than 
that,  or  more  than  that:  either  beneath  or  beyond  the  knowl- 
edge that  we  had  not  even  wondered  in  three  years.  The 
subadar — after  a  while  he  was  there,  in  his  turban  and  his 
trick  major's  pips — said  that  we  were  like  men  trying  to 
move  in  water.  "But  soon  it  will  clear  away,"  he  said.  "The 
effluvium  of  hatred  and  of  words.  We  are  like  men  trying 
to  move  in  water,  with  held  breath  watching  our  terrific 
and  infinitesimal  limbs,  watching  one  another's  terrific  stasis 
without  touch,  without  contact,  robbed  of  all  save  the  im- 
potence and  the  need." 

We  were  in  the  car  then,  going  to  Amiens,  Sartoris  driv- 
ing and  Comyn  sitting  half  a  head  above  him  in  the  front 
seat  like  a  tackling  dummy,  the  subadar,  Bland  and  I  in 
back,  each  with  a  bottle  or  two  in  his  pockets.  Except  the 
subadar,  that  is.  He  was  squat,  small  and  thick,  yet  his  so- 
briety was  colossal.  In  that  maelstrom  of  alcohol  where  the 
rest  of  us  had  fled  our  inescapable  selves  he  was  like  a  rock, 


408  The  Wasteland 

talking  quietly  in  a  grave  bass  four  sizes  too  big  for  him: 
"In  my  country  I  was  prince.  But  all  men  are  brothers." 

But  after  twelve  years  I  think  of  us  as  bugs  in  the  surface 
of  the  water,  isolant  and  aimless  and  unflagging.  Not  on  the 
surface;  in  it,  within  that  line  of  demarcation  not  air  and  not 
water,  sometimes  submerged,  sometimes  not.  You  have 
watched  an  unbreaking  groundswell  in  a  cove,  the  water 
shallow,  the  cove  quiet,  a  little  sinister  with  satiate  famili- 
arity, while  beyond  the  darkling  horizon  the  dying  storm 
has  raged  on.  That  was  the  water,  we  the  flotsam.  Even 
after  twelve  years  it  is  no  clearer  than  that.  It  had  no  begin- 
ning and  no  ending.  Out  of  nothing  we  howled,  unwitting 
the  storm  which  we  had  escaped  and  the  foreign  strand 
which  we  could  not  escape;  that  in  the  interval  between  two 
surges  of  the  swell  we  died  who  had  been  too  young  to  have 
ever  lived. 

We  stopped  in  the  middle  of  the  road  to  drink  again.  The 
land  was  dark  and  empty.  And  quiet:  that  was  what  you 
noticed,  remarked.  You  could  hear  the  earth  breathe,  like 
coming  out  of  ether,  like  it  did  not  yet  know,  believe,  that 
it  was  awake.  "But  now  it  is  peace,"  the  subadar  said.  "All 
men  are  brothers." 

"You  spoke  before  the  Union  once,"  Bland  said.  He  was 
blond  and  tall.  When  he  passed  through  a  room  where 
women  were  he  left  a  sighing  wake  like  a  ferry  boat  enter- 
ing the  slip.  He  was  a  Southerner,  too,  like  Sartoris;  but 
unlike  Sartoris,  in  the  five  months  he  had  been  out,  no  one 
had  ever  found  a  bullet  hole  in  his  machine.  But  he  had  trans- 
ferred out  of  an  Oxford  battalion — he  was  a  Rhodes  scholar 
— with  a  barnacle  and  a  wound-stripe.  When  he  was  tight 
he  would  talk  about  his  wife,  though  we  all  knew  that  he 
was  not  married. 

He  took  the  bottle  from  Sartoris  and  drank.  "I've  got  the 
sweetest  little  wife,"  he  said.  "Let  me  tell  YOU  about  her." 


Ad  Astra  409 

"Dont  tell  us,"  Sartoris  said.  "Give  her  to  Comyn.  He 
wants  a  girl." 

"All  right,"  Bland  said.  "You  can  have  her,  Comyn." 

"Is  she  blonde?"  Comyn  said. 

"I  dont  know,"  Bland  said.  He  turned  back  to  the  subadar, 
"You  spoke  before  the  Union  once.  I  remember  you." 

"Ah,"  the  subadar  said.  "Oxford.  Yes." 

"He  can  attend  their  schools  among  the  gentleborn,  the 
bleach-skinned,"  Bland  said.  "But  he  cannot  hold  their  com- 
mission, because  gentility  is  a  matter  of  color  and  not  lineage 
or  behavior." 

"Fighting  is  more  important  than  truth,"  the  subadar  said. 
"So  we  must  restrict  the  prestige  and  privileges  of  it  to  the 
few  so  that  it  will  not  lose  popularity  with  the  many  who 
have  to  die." 

"Why  more  important?"  I  said.  "I  thought  this  one  was 
being  fought  to  end  war  forevermore." 

The  subadar  made  a  brief  gesture,  dark,  deprecatory, 
tranquil.  "I  was  a  white  man  also  for  that  moment.  It  is  more 
important  for  the  Caucasian  because  he  is  only  what  he  can 
do;  it  is  the  sum  of  him." 

"So  you  see  further  than  we  see?" 

"A  man  sees  further  looking  out  of  the  dark  upon  the 
light  than  a  man  does  in  the  light  and  looking  out  upon  the 
light.  That  is  the  principle  of  the  spyglass.  The  lens  is  only  to 
tease  him  with  that  which  the  sense  that  suffers  and  desires 
can  never  affirm." 

"What  do  you  see,  then?"  Bland  said. 

"I  see  girls,"  Comyn  said.  "I  see  acres  and  acres  of  the 
yellow  hair  of  them  like  wheat  and  me  among  the  wheat. 
Have  ye  ever  watched  a  hidden  dog  quartering  a  wheat  field, 
any  of  yez?" 

"Not  hunting  bitches,"  Bland  said. 

Comyn  turned  in  the  seat,  thick  and  huge.  He  was  big  as 


410  The  Wasteland 

all  outdoors.  To  watch  two  mechanics  shoehorning  him  into 
the  cockpit  of  a  Dolphin  like  two  chambermaids  putting  an 
emergency  bolster  into  a  case  too  small  for  it,  was  a  sight  to 
see.  "I  will  beat  the  head  off  ye  for  a  shilling,"  he  said. 

"So  you  believe  in  the  Tightness  of  man?"  I  said. 

"I  will  beat  the  heads  off  yez  all  for  a  shilling,"  Comyn 
said. 

"I  believe  in  the  pitiableness  of  man,"  the  subadar  said. 
"That  is  better." 

"I  will  give  yez  a  shilling,  then,v/  Comyn  said. 

"All  right,"  Sartoris  said.  "Did  you  ever  try  a  little  whisky 
for  the  night  air,  any  of  you  all?" 

Comyn  took  the  bottle  and  drank.  "Acres  and  acres  of 
them,"  he  said,  "with  their  little  round  white  woman  parts 
gleaming  among  the  moiling  wheat." 

So  we  drank  again,  on  the  lonely  road  between  two  beet 
fields,  in  the  dark  quiet,  and  the  turn  of  the  inebriation 
began  to  make.  It  came  back  from  wherever  it  had  gone, 
rolling  down  upon  us  and  upon  the  grave  sober  rock  of  the 
subadar  until  his  voice  sounded  remote  and  tranquil  and 
dreamlike,  saying  that  we  were  brothers.  Monaghan  was 
there  then,  standing  beside  our  car  in  the  full  glare  of  the 
headlights  of  his  car,  in  an  R.F.C.  cap  and  an  American  tunic 
with  both  shoulder  straps  flapping  loose,  drinking  from 
Comyn's  bottle.  Beside  him  stood  a  second  man,  also  in  a 
tunic  shorter  and  trimmer  than  ours,  with  a  bandage  about 
his  head. 

"I'll  fight  you,"  Comyn  told  Monaghan.  "I'll  give  you 
the  shilling." 

"All  right,"  Monaghan  said.  He  drank  again. 

"We  are  all  brothers,"  the  subadar  said.  "Sometimes  we 
pause  at  the  wrong  inn.  We  think  it  is  night  and  we  stop, 
when  it  is  not  night.  That  is  all." 

"I'll  give  you  a  sovereign,"  Comyn  told  Monaghan. 


Ad  Astra  411 

"All  right,"  Monaghan  said.  He  extended  the  bottle  to 
the  other  man,  the  one  with  the  bandaged  head. 

"I  thangk  you,"  the  man  said.  "I  haf  plenty  yet." 

"I'll  fight  him,"  Comyn  said. 

"It  is  because  we  can  do  only  within  the  heart,"  the 
subadar  said.  "While  we  see  beyond  the  heart." 

"I'll  be  damned  if  you  will,"  Monaghan  said.  "He's  mine." 
He  turned  to  the  man  with  the  bandaged  head.  "Aren't  you 
mine?  Here;  drink." 

"I  haf  plenty,  I  thangk  you,  gentlemen,"  the  other  said. 
But  I  dont  think  any  of  us  paid  much  attention  to  him  until 
we  were  inside  the  Cloche-Clos.  It  was  crowded,  full  of 
noise  and  smoke.  When  we  entered  all  the  noise  ceased,  like 
a  string  cut  in  two,  the  end  raveling  back  into  a  sort  of 
shocked  consternation  of  pivoting  faces,  and  the  waiter — an 
old  man  in  a  dirty  apron — falling  back  before  us,  slack- 
jawed,  with  an  expression  of  outraged  unbelief,  like  an 
atheist  confronted  with  either  Christ  or  the  devil.  We 
crossed  the  room,  the  waiter  retreating  before  us,  paced  by 
the  turning  outraged  faces,  to  a  table  adjacent  to  one  where 
three  French  officers  sat  watching  us  with  that  same  expres- 
sion of  astonishment  and  then  outrage  and  then  anger.  As 
one  they  rose;  the  whole  room,  the  silence,  became  staccato 
with  voices,  like  machine  guns.  That  was  when  I  turned  and 
looked  at  Monaghan's  companion  for  the  first  time,  in  his 
green  tunic  and  his  black  snug  breeks  and  his  black  boots 
and  his  bandage.  He  had  cut  himself  recently  shaving,  and 
with  his  bandaged  head  and  his  face  polite  and  dazed  and 
bloodless  and  sick,  he  looked  like  Monaghan  had  been  using 
him  pretty  hard.  Roundfaced,  not  old,  with  his  immaculately 
turned  bandage  which  served  only  to  emphasize  the  genera- 
tions of  difference  between  him  and  the  turbaned  subadar, 
flanked  by  Monaghan  with  his  wild  face  and  wild  tunic  and 
surrounded  by  the  French  people's  shocked  and  outraged 


412  The  Wasteland 

faces,  he  appeared  to  contemplate  with  a  polite  and  alert 
concern  his  own  struggle  against  the  inebriation  which 
Monaghan  was  forcing  upon  him.  There  was  something 
Anthony-like  about  him:  rigid,  soldierly,  with  every  button 
in  place,  with  his  unblemished  bandage  and  his  fresh  razor 
cuts,  he  appeared  to  muse  furiously  upon  a  clear  flame  of  a 
certain  conviction  of  individual  behavior  above  a  violent 
and  inexplicable  chaos.  Then  I  remarked  Monaghan's  sec- 
ond companion:  an  American  military  policeman.  He  was 
not  drinking.  He  sat  beside  the  German,  rolling  cigarettes 
from  a  cloth  sack. 

On  the  German's  other  side  Monaghan  was  filling  his 
glass.  "I  brought  him  down  this  morning,"  he  said.  "I'm 
going  to  take  him  home  with  me." 

"Why?"  Bland  said.  "What  do  you  want  with  him?" 

"Because  he  belongs  to  me,"  Monaghan  said.  He  set  the 
full  glass  before  the  German.  "Here;  drink." 

"I  once  thought  about  taking  one  home  to  my  wife," 
Bland  said.  "So  I  could  prove  to  her  that  I  have  only  been 
to  a  war.  But  I  never  could  find  a  good  one.  A  whole  one, 
I  mean." 

"Come  on,"  Monaghan  said.  uDrink." 

"I  haf  plenty,"  the  German  said.  "All  day  I  haf  plenty." 

"Do  you  want  to  go  to  America  with  him?"  Bland  said: 

"Yes.  I  would  ligk  it.  Thanks." 

"Sure  you'll  like  it,"  Monaghan  said.  "I'll  make  a  man  of 
you.  Drink," 

The  German  raised  the  glass,  but  he  merely  held  it  in  his 
hand.  His  face  was  strained,  deprecatory,  yet  with  a  kind 
of  sereneness,  like  that  of  a  man  who  has  conquered  himself. 
I  imagine  some  of  the  old  martyrs  must  have  looked  at  the 
lions  with  that  expression.  He  was  sick,  too.  Not  from  the 
liquor:  from  his  head.  "I  haf  in  Beyreuth  a  wife  and  a  little 
wohn.  Mine  son.  I  haf  not  him  yet  seen." 


Ad  Astra  413 

"Ah,"  the  subadar  said.  "Beyreuth.  I  was  there  one 
spring." 

"Ah,"  the  German  said.  He  looked  quickly  at  the  subadar. 
"So?  The  music?" 

"Yes,"  the  subadar  said.  "In  your  music  a  few  of  you  have 
felt,  tasted,  lived,  the  true  brotherhood.  The  rest  of  us  can 
only  look  beyond  the  heart.  But  we  can  follow  them  for  a 
little  while  in  the  music." 

"And  then  we  must  return,"  the  German  said.  "That  iss 
not  good.  Why  must  we  yet  return  always?" 

"It  is  not  the  time  for  that  yet,"  the  subadar  said.  "But 
soon  ...  It  is  not  as  far  as  it  once  was.  Not  now." 

"Yes,"  the  German  said.  "Defeat  will  be  good  for  us. 
Defeat  iss  good  for  art;  victory,  it  iss  not  good." 

"So  you  admit  you  were  whipped,"  Comyn  said.  He  was 
sweating  again,  and  Sartoris'  nostrils  were  quite  white,  I 
thought  of  what  the  subadar  had  said  about  men  in  water. 
Only  our  water  was  drunkenness:  that  isolation  of  alcohol- 
ism which  drives  men  to  shout  and  laugh  and  fight,  not  with 
one  another  but  with  their  unbearable  selves  which,  drunk, 
they  are  even  more  fain  and  still  less  fell  to  escape.  Loud  and 
overloud,  unwitting  the  black  thunderhead  of  outraged 
France  (steadily  the  other  tables  were  being  emptied;  the 
other  customers  were  now  clotted  about  the  high  desk 
where  the  patronne,  an  old  woman  in  steel  spectacles,  sat,  a 
wad  of  knitting  on  the  ledge  before  her)  we  shouted  at  one 
another,  speaking  in  foreign  tongues  out  of  our  inescapable 
isolations,  reiterant,  unlistened  to  by  one  another;  while  sub- 
merged by  us  and  more  foreign  still,  the  German  and  the 
subadar  talked  quietly  of  music,  art,  the  victory  born  of 
defeat.  And  outside  in  the  chill  November  darkness  was  the 
suspension,  the  not-quite-believing,  not-quite-awakened 
nightmare,  the  breathing  spell  of  the  old  verbiaged  lusts  and 
the  buntinged  and  panoplied  greeds. 


414  The  Wasteland 

"By  God,  I'm  shanty  Irish,"  Monaghan  said.  "That's  what 
I  am." 

"What  about  it?"  Sartoris  said,  his  nostrils  like  chalk 
against  his  high-colored  face.  His  twin  brother  had  been 
killed  in  July.  He  was  in  a  Camel  squadron  below  us,  and 
Sartoris  was  down  there  when  it  happened.  For  a  week 
after  that,  as  soon  as  he  came  in  from  patrol  he  would  fill 
his  tanks  and  drums  and  go  out  again,  alone.  One  day  some- 
body saw  him,  roosting  about  five  thousand  feet  above  an 
old  Ak.W.  I  suppose  the  other  guy  who  was  with  his  brother 
that  morning  had  seen  the  markings  on  the  Hun  patrol 
leader's  crate;  anyway,  that's  what  Sartoris  was  doing,  using 
the  Ak.W.  for  bait.  Where  he  got  it  and  who  he  got  to  fly 
it,  we  didn't  know.  But  he  got  three  Huns  that  week,  catch- 
ing them  dead  when  they  dived  on  the  Ak.W.,  and  on  the 
eighth  day  he  didn't  go  out  again.  "He  must  have  got  him," 
Hume  said.  But  we  didn't  know.  He  never  told  us.  But  after 
that,  he  was  all  right  again.  He  never  did  talk  much;  just 
did  his  patrols  and  maybe  once  a  week  he'd  sit  and  drink  his 
nostrils  white  in  a  quiet  sort  of  way. 

Bland  was  filling  his  glass,  a  drop  at  a  time  almost,  with 
a  catlike  indolence.  I  could  see  why  men  didn't  like  him 
and  why  women  did.  Comyn,  his  arms  crossed  on  the  table, 
his  cuff  in  a  pool  of  spilt  liquor,  was  staring  at  the  German. 
His  eyes  were  bloodshot,  a  little  protuberant.  Beneath  his 
downcrushed  monkey  cap  the  American  M.P.  smoked  his 
meager  cigarettes,  his  face  quite  blank.  The  steel  chain  of 
his  whistle  looped  into  his  breast  pocket,  his  pistol  was 
hunched  forward  onto  his  lap.  Beyond,  the  French  people, 
the  soldiers,  the  waiter,  the  patronne,  clotted  at  the  desk.  I 
could  hear  their  voices  like  from  a  distance,  like  crickets  in 
September  grass,  the  shadows  of  their  hands  jerking  up  the 
wall  and  flicking  away. 

"Fm  not  a  soldier,"  Monaghan  said.  "I'm  not  a  gentleman. 


Ad  Astra  415 

I'm  not  anything."  At  the  base  of  each  flapping  shoulder 
strap  there  was  a  small  rip;  there  were  two  longer  ones 
parallel  above  his  left  pocket  where  His  wings  and  ribbon  had 
been.  "I  dont  know  what  I  am.  I  have  been  in  this  damn  war 
for  three  years  and  all  I  know  is,  I'm  not  dead.  I — " 

"How  do  you  know  you're  not  dead?"  Bland  said. 

Monaghan  looked  at  Bland,  his  mouth  open  upon  his  un- 
completed word. 

"I'll  kill  you  for  a  shilling,"  Comyn  said.  "I  dont  like  your 
bloody  face,  Lootenant.  Bloody  lootenant." 

"I'm  shanty  Irish,"  Monaghan  said.  "That's  what  I  am. 
My  father  was  shanty  Irish,  by  God.  And  I  dont  know  what 
my  grandfather  was.  I  dont  know  if  I  had  one.  My  father 
dont  remember  one.  Likely  it  could  have  been  one  of  several. 
So  he  didn't  even  have  to  be  a  gentleman.  He  never  had  to 
be.  That's  why  he  could  make  a  million  dollars  digging 
sewers  in  the  ground.  So  he  could  look  up  at  the  tall  glitter- 
ing windows  and  say — I've  heard  him,  and  him  smoking  the 
pipe  would  gas  the  puking  guts  out  of  you  damn,  niggling, 
puny — " 

"Are  you  bragging  about  your  father's  money  or  about 
his  sewers?"  Bland  said. 

" — would  look  up  at  them  and  he'd  say  to  me,  he'd  say, 
'When  you're  with  your  fine  friends,  the  fathers  and  mothers 
and  sisters  of  them  you  met  at  Yale,  ye  might  just  remind 
them  that  every  man  is  the  slave  of  his  own  refuse  and  so 
your  old  dad  they  would  be  sending  around  to  the  forty- 
story  back  doors  of  their  kitchens  is  the  king  of  them  all — ' 
What  did  you  say?"  He  looked  at  Bland. 

"Look  here,  buddy,"  the  M.P.  said.  "This  is  about  enough 
of  this.  I've  got  to  report  this  prisoner." 

"Wait,"  Monaghan  said.  He  did  not  cease  to  look  at 
Bland.  "What  did  you  say?" 


4i 6  The  Wasteland 

"Are  you  bragging  about  your  father's  money  or  about 
his  sewers?"  Bland  said. 

"No,"  Monaghan  saW.  "Why  should  I?  Any  more  than 
I  would  brag  about  the  thirteen  Huns  I  got,  or  the  two  rib- 
bons, one  of  which  his  damned  king — "  he  jerked  his  head  at 
Comyn — "gave  me." 

"Dont  call  him  my  damned  king,"  Comyn  said,  his  cuff 
soaking  slowly  in  the  spilt  liquor. 

"Look,"  Monaghan  said.  He  jerked  his  hand  at  the  rips  on 
his  flapping  shoulder  straps,  at  the  two  parallel  rips  on  his 
breast.  "That's  what  I  think  of  it.  Of  all  your  goddamn 
twaddle  about  glory  and  gentlemen.  I  was  young;  I  thought 
you  had  to  be.  Then  I  was  in  it  and  there  wasn't  time  to 
stop  even  when  I  found  it  didn't  count.  But  now  it's  over; 
finished  now.  Now  I  can  be  what  I  am.  Shanty  Irish;  son  of 
an  immigrant  that  knew  naught  but  shovel  and  pick  until 
youth  and  the  time  for  pleasuring  was  wore  out  of  him 
before  his  time.  Out  of  a  peat  bog  he  came,  and  his  son  went 
to  their  gentlemen's  school  and  returned  across  the  water  to 
swank  it  with  any  of  them  that  owned  the  peat  bogs  and  the 
bitter  sweat  of  them  that  mired  it,  and  the  king  said  him 
well." 

"I  will  give  yez  the  shilling  and  I  will  beat  the  head  off 
yez,"  Comyn  said. 

"But  why  do  you  want  to  take  him  back  with  you?" 
Bland  said.  Monaghan  just  looked  at  Bland.  There  was  some- 
thing of  the  crucified  about  Monaghan,  too:  furious,  inar- 
ticulate not  with  stupidity  but  at  it,  like  into  him  more  than 
any  of  us  had  distilled  the  ceased  drums  of  the  old  lust  and 
greed  waking  at  last  aghast  at  their  own  impotence  and  ac- 
crued despair.  Bland  sat  on  his  spine,  legs  extended,  his  hands 
in  his  slacks,  his  handsome  face  calmly  insufferable.  "What 
stringed  pick  would  he  bow?  maybe  a  shovel  strung  with 
the  ejut  of  an  alley-cat?  he  will  create  perhaps  in  music  the 


Ad  Astra  417 

flushed  toilets  of  Manhattan  to  play  for  your  father  after 
supper  of  an  evening?"  Monaghan  just  looked  at  Bland  with 
that  wild,  rapt  expression.  Bland  turned  his  lazy  face  a  little 
to  the  German. 

"Look  here,"  the  M.P.  said. 

"You  have  a  wife,  Herr  Lcutnant?"  Bland  said. 

The  German  looked  up.  He  glanced  swiftly  from  face  to 
face.  "Yes,  thank  you,"  he  said.  He  still  had  not  touched  his 
full  glass  save  to  hold  it  in  his  hand.  But  he  was  no  nearer 
sober  than  before,  the  liquor  become  the  hurting  of  his  head, 
his  head  the  pulse  and  beat  of  alcohol  in  him.  "My  people 
are  of  Prussia  little  barons.  There  are  four  brothers:  the  sec- 
ond for  the  Army,  the  third  who  did  nothing  in  Berlin,  the 
little  one  a  cadet  of  dragoons;  I,  the  eldest,  in  the  University. 
There  I  learned.  There  wass  a  time  then.  It  was  as  though 
we,  young  from  the  quiet  land,  were  brought  together, 
chosen  and  worthy  to  witness  a  period  quick  like  a  woman 
with  a  high  destiny  of  the  earth  and  of  man.  It  iss  as  though 
the  old  trash,  the  old  litter  of  man's  blundering,  iss  to  be 
swept  away  for  a  new  race  that  will  in  the  heroic  simplicity 
of  olden  time  walk  the  new  earth.  You  knew  that  time, 
not?  When  the  eye  sparkled,  the  blut  ran  quick?"  He 
looked  about  at  our  faces.  "No?  Well,  in  America  perhaps 
not.  America  iss  new;  in  a  new  house  it  is  not  the  litter  so 
much  as  in  old."  He  looked  at  his  glass  for  a  moment,  his 
face  tranquil.  "I  return  home;  I  say  to  my  father,  in  the 
University  I  haf  learned  it  iss  not  good;  baron  I  will  not  be. 
He  cannot  believe.  He  talks  of  Germany,  the  fatherland;  I 
say  to  him,  It  iss  there;  so.  You  say  fatherland;  I,  brother- 
land,  I  say,  the  word  father  iss  that  barbarism  which 
will  be  first  swept  away;  it  iss  the  symbol  of  that  hierarchy 
which  hass  stained  the  history  of  man  with  injustice  of  arbi- 
trary instead  of  moral;  force  instead  of  love. 

"From  Berlin  they  send  for  that  one;  from  the  Army  that 


4i 8  The  Wasteland 

one  comes.  I  still  say  baron  I  will  not  be,  for  it  iss  not  good. 
We  are  in  the  little  hall  where  my  ancestors  on  the  walls 
hang;  I  stand  before  them  like  court-martial;  I  say  that 
Franz  must  be  baron,  for  I  will  not  be.  My  father  says  you 
can;  you  will;  it  iss  for  Germany.  Then  I  say,  For  Germany 
then  will  my  wife  be  baroness?  And  like  a  court-martial  I 
tell  them  I  haf  married  the  daughter  of  a  musician  who  wass 
peasant. 

"So  it  iss  that.  That  one  of  Berlin  iss  to  be  baron.  He  and 
Franz  are  twin,  but  Franz  iss  captain  already,  and  the  most 
humble  of  the  Army  may  eat  meat  with  our  kaiser;  he  does 
not  need  to  be  baron.  So  I  am  in  Beyreuth  with  my  wife 
and  my  music.  It  iss  as  though  I  am  dead.  I  do  not  get  letter 
until  to  say  my  father  iss  dead  and  I  haf  killed  him,  and  that 
one  iss  now  home  from  Berlin  to  be  baron.  But  he  does  not 
stay  at  home.  In  1912  he  iss  in  Berlin  newspaper  dead  of  a 
lady's  husband  and  so  Franz  iss  baron  after  all. 

"Then  it  iss  war.  But  I  am  in  Beyreuth  with  my  wife  and 
my  music,  because  we  think  that  it  will  not  be  long,  since 
it  was  not  long  before.  The  fatherland  in  its  pride  needed 
us  of  the  schools,  but  when  it  needed  us  it  did  not  know  it. 
And  when  it  did  realize  that  it  needed  us  it  wass  too  late  and 
any  peasant  who  would  be  hard  to  die  would  do.  And  so — " 

"Why  did  you  go,  then?"  Bland  said.  "Did  the  women 
make  you?  throw  eggs  at  you,  maybe?" 

The  German  looked  at  Bland.  "I  am  German;  that  iss 
beyond  the  I,  the  I  am.  Not  for  baron  and  kaiser."  Then  he 
quit  looking  at  Bland  without  moving  his  eyes.  "There  wass 
a  Germany  before  there  wass  barons,"  he  said.  "And  after, 
there  will  be." 

"Even  after  this?" 

"More  so.  Then  it  was  pride,  a  word  in  the  mouth.  Now 
it  is  a — how  you  call  it?  .  .  ." 


Ad  Astra  419 

"A  nation  vanquishes  its  banners,"  the  subadar  said.  "A 
man  conquers  himself." 

"Or  a  woman  a  child  bears,"  the  German  said. 

"Out  of  the  lust,  the  travail,"  the  subadar  said;  "out  of 
the  travail,  the  affirmation,  the  godhead;  truth." 

The  M.P.  was  rolling  another  cigarette.  He  watched  the 
subadar,  upon  his  face  an  expression  savage,  restrained,  and 
cold.  He  licked  the  cigarette  and  looked  at  me. 

"When  I  came  to  this  goddamn  country,"  he  said,  "I 
thought  niggers  were  niggers.  But  now  I'll  be  damned  if  I 
know  what  they  are.  What's  he?  snake-charmer?" 

"Yes,"  I  said.  "Snake-charmer." 

"Then  he  better  get  his  snake  out  and  beat  it.  I've  got  to 
report  this  prisoner.  Look  at  those  frogs  yonder."  As  I 
turned  and  looked  three  of  the  Frenchmen  were  leaving  the 
room,  insult  and  outrage  in  the  shapes  of  their  backs.  The 
German  was  talking  again. 

"I  hear  by  the  newspapers  how  Franz  is  colonel  and  then 
general,  and  how  the  cadet,  who  wass  still  the  round-headed 
boy  part  of  a  gun  always  when  I  last  saw  him,  iss  now  ace 
with  iron  cross  by  the  kaiser's  own  hand.  Then  it  iss  1916. 
I  see  by  the  paper  how  the  cadet  iss  killed  by  your  Bishop — " 
he  bowed  slightly  to  Comyn — "that  good  man.  So  now  I 
am  cadet  myself.  It  iss  as  though  I  know.  It  iss  as  though  I 
see  what  iss  to  be.  So  I  transfer  to  be  aviator,  and  yet  though 
I  know  now  that  Franz  iss  general  of  staff  and  though  to 
myself  each  night  I  say,  'You  have  again  returned,'  I  know 
that  it  iss  no  good. 

"That,  until  our  kaiser  fled.  Then  I  learn  that  Franz  iss 
now  in  Berlin;  I  believe  that  there  iss  a  truth,  that  we  haf 
not  forfeited  all  in  pride,  because  we  know  it  will  not  be 
much  longer  now,  and  Franz  in  Berlin  safe,  the  fighting 
away  from. 

"Then  it  iss  this  morning.  Then  comes  the  letter  in  my 


420  The  Wasteland 

mother's  hand  that  I  haf  not  seen  in  seven  years,  addressed 
to  me  as  baron.  Franz  iss  shot  from  his  horse  by  German 
soldier  in  Berlin  street.  It  iss  as  though  all  had  been  forgotten, 
because  women  can  forget  all  that  quick,  since  to  them 
nothing  iss  real — truth,  justice,  all — nothing  that  cannot  be 
held  in  the  hands  or  cannot  die.  So  I  burn  all  my  papers,  the 
picture  of  my  wife  and  my  son  that  I  haf  not  yet  seen, 
destroy  my  identity  disk  and  remove  all  insignia  from  my 
tunic — "  he  gestured  toward  his  collar. 

"You  mean,"  Bland  said,  "that  you  had  no  intention  of 
coming  back?  Why  didn't  you  take  a  pistol  to  yourself  and 
save  your  government  an  aeroplane?" 

"Suicide  iss  just  for  the  body,"  the  German  said.  "The 
body  settles  nothing.  It  iss  of  no  importance.  It  iss  just  to 
be  kept  clean  when  possible." 

"It  is  merely  a  room  in  the  inn,"  the  subadar  said.  "It  is 
just  where  we  hide  for  a  little  while." 

"The  lavatory,"  Bland  said;  "the  toilet." 

The  M.P.  rose.  He  tapped  the  German  on  the  shoulder. 
Comyn  was  staring  at  the  German. 

"So  you  admit  you  were  whipped,"  he  said. 

"Yes,"  the  German  said.  "It  wass  our  time  first,  because 
we  were  the  sickest.  It  will  be  your  England's  next.  Then 
she  too  will  be  well." 

"Dont  say  my  England,"  Comyn  said.  "I  am  of  the  Irish 
nation."  He  turned  to  Monaghan.  "You  said,  my  damned 
king.  Dont  say  my  damned  king.  Ireland  has  had  no  king 
since  the  Ur  Neill,  God  bless  the  red-haired  stern  of  him." 

Rigid,  controlled,  the  German  made  a  faint  gesture.  "You 
see?"  he  said  to  no  one  at  all. 

"The  victorious  lose  that  ^hich  the  vanquished  gain,"  the 
subadar  said. 

"And  what  will  vou  do  now?"  Bland  said. 


Ad  Astra  42 1 

The  German  did  not  answer.  He  sat  bolt  upright  with 
his  sick  face  and  his  immaculate  bandage. 

"What  will  you  do?"  the  subadar  said  to  Bland.  "What 
will  any  of  us  do?  All  this  generation  which  fought  in  the 
war  are  dead  tonight.  But  we  do  not  yet  know  it." 

We  looked  at  the  subadar:  Comyn  with  his  bloodshot 
pig's  eyes,  Sartoris  with  his  white  nostrils,  Bland  slumped 
in  his  chair,  indolent,  insufferable,  with  his  air  of  a  spoiled 
woman.  Above  the  German  the  M.P.  stood. 

"It  seems  to  worry  you  a  hell  of  a  lot,"  Bland  said. 

"You  do  not  believe?"  the  subadar  said.  "Wait.  You  will 
see." 

"Wait?"  Bland  said.  "I  dont  think  I've  done  anything  in 
the  last  three  years  to  have  acquired  that  habit.  In  the  last 
twenty-six  years.  Before  that  I  dont  remember.  I  may  have." 

"Then  you  will  see  sooner  than  waiting,"  the  subadar  said. 
"You  will  see."  He  looked  about  at  us,  gravely  serene. 
"Those  who  have  been  four  years  rotting  out  yonder — " 
he  waved  his  short  thick  arm — "are  not  more  dead  than  we." 

Again  the  M.P.  touched  the  German's  shoulder.  "Hell," 
he  said.  "Come  along,  buddy."  Then  he  turned  his  head  and 
we  all  looked  up  at  the  two  Frenchmen,  an  officer  and  a 
sergeant,  standing  beside  the  table.  For  a  while  we  just  re- 
mained so.  It  was  like  all  the  little  bugs  had  suddenly  found 
that  their  orbits  had  coincided  and  they  wouldn't  even  have 
to  be  aimless  any  more  or  even  to  keep  on  moving.  Beneath 
the  alcohol  I  could  feel  that  hard,  hot  ball  beginning  in  my 
stomach,  like  in  combat,  like  when  you  know  something  is 
about  to  happen;  that  instant  when  you  think  Now.  Now 
I  can  dump  everything  overboard  and  just  be.  Now.  Now. 
It  is  quite  pleasant. 

"Why  is  that  here,  monsieur?"  the  officer  said.  Monaghan 
looked  up  at  him,  thrust  backward  and  sideways  in  his  chair, 
poised  on  the  balls  of  his  thighs  as  though  they  were  feet, 


422  The  Wasteland 

his  arm  lying  upon  the  table.  "Why  do  you  make  desagre- 
able  for  France,  monsieur,  eh?"  the  officer  said. 

Someone  grasped  Monaghan  as  he  rose;  it  was  the  M.P. 
behind  him,  holding  him  half  risen.  "Wa-a-a-i-daminute," 
the  M.P.  said;  "wa-a-a-i-daminute."  The  cigarette  bobbed 
on  his  lower  lip  as  he  talked,  his  hands  on  Monaghan's  shoul- 
ders, the  brassard  on  his  arm  lifted  into  bold  relief.  "What's 
it  to  you,  Frog? "  he  said.  Behind  the  officer  and  the  sergeant 
the  other  French  people  stood,  and  the  old  woman.  She  was 
trying  to  push  through  the  circle.  "This  is  my  prisoner,"  the 
M.P.  said.  "I'll  take  him  anywhere  I  please  and  keep  him 
there  as  long  as  I  like.  What  do  you  think  about  that?" 

"By  which  authority,  monsieur?"  the  officer  said.  He  was 
tall,  with  a  gaunt,  tragic  face.  I  saw  then  that  one  of  his  eyes 
was  glass.  It  was  motionless,  rigid  in  a  face  that  looked  even 
deader  than  the  spurious  eye. 

The  M.P.  glanced  toward  his  brassard,  then  instead  he 
looked  at  the  officer  again  and  tapped  the  pistol  swinging 
low  now  against  his  flank.  "I'll  take  him  all  over  your  god- 
damn lousy  country.  I'll  take  him  into  your  goddamn  senate 
and  kick  your  president  up  for  a  chair  for  him  and  you  can 
suck  your  chin  until  I  come  back  to  wipe  the  latrine  off 
your  feet  again." 

"Ah,"  the  officer  said,  "a  devil-dog,  I  see."  He  said  "dehvil- 
dahg"  between  his  teeth,  with  no  motion  of  his  dead  face, 
in  itself  insult.  Behind  him  the  patronne  began  to  shriek  in 
French: 

"Boche!  Boche!  Broken!  Broken!  Every  cup,  every  saucer, 
glass,  plate — all,  all!  I  will  show  you!  I  have  kept  them  for  this 
day.  Eight  months  since  the  obus  I  have  kept  them  in  a  box 
against  this  day:  plates,  cups,  saucers,  glasses,  all  that  I  have 
had  since  thirty  years,  all  gone,  broken  at  one  time!  And  it 
costing  me  fifty  centimes  the  glass  for  such  that  I  shame 
myself  to  have  my  patrons — " 


Ad  Astra  423 

There  is  an  unbearable  point,  a  climax,  in  weariness.  Even 
alcohol  cannot  approach  it.  Mobs  are  motivated  by  it,  by 
a  sheer  attenuation  of  sameness  become  unbearable.  As 
Monaghan  rose,  the  M.P.  flung  him  back.  Then  it  was  as 
though  we  all  flung  everything  overboard  at  once,  facing 
unbashed  and  without  shame  the  specter  which  for  four 
years  we  had  been  decking  out  in  high  words,  leaping  for- 
ward with  concerted  and  orderly  promptitude  each  time 
the  bunting  slipped.  I  saw  the  M.P.  spring  at  the  officer,  then 
Corny n  rose  and  met  him.  I  saw  the  M.P.  hit  Corny n  three 
times  on  the  point  of  the  jaw  with  his  fist  before  Corny  n 
picked  him  up  bodily  and  threw  him  clean  over  the  crowd, 
where  he  vanished,  horizontal  in  midair,  tugging  at  his  pistol. 
I  saw  three  poilus  on  Monaghan's  back  and  the  officer  trying 
to  hit  him  with  a  bottle,  and  Sartoris  leaping  upon  the  offi- 
cer from  behind.  Comyn  was  gone;  through  the  gap  which 
he  had  made  the  patronne  emerged,  shrieking.  Two  men 
caught  at  her  and  she  strove  forward,  trying  to  spit  on  the 
German.  "Boche!  Boche!"  she  shrieked,  spitting  and  slob- 
bering, her  gray  hair  broken  loose  about  her  face;  she  turned 
and  spat  full  at  me.  "Thou,  too!"  she  shrieked,  "it  was  not 
England  that  was  devastated!  Thou,  too,  come  to  pick  the 
bones  of  France.  Jackal!  Vulture!  Animal!  Broken,  broken! 
All!  All!  All!"  And  beneath  it  all,  unmoved,  unmoving,  alert, 
watchful  and  contained,  the  German  and  the  subadar  sat, 
the  German  with  his  high,  sick  face,  the  subadar  tranquil  as 
a  squat  idol,  the  both  of  them  turbaned  like  prophets  in  the 
Old  Testament. 

It  didn't  take  long.  There  was  no  time  in  it.  Or  rather,  we 
were  outside  of  time;  within,  not  on,  that  surface,  that  de- 
marcation between  the  old  where  we  knew  we  had  not  died 
and  the  new  where  the  subadar  said  that  we  were  dead. 
Beyond  the  brandished  bottles,  the  blue  sleeves  and  the 
grimed  hands,  the  faces  like  masks  grimaced  into  rigid  and 


424  The  Wasteland 

soundless  shouts  to  frighten  children,  I  saw  Comyn  again. 
He  came  plowing  up  like  a  laden  ship  in  a  chop  sea;  beneath 
his  arm  was  the  ancient  waiter,  to  his  lips  he  held  the  M.P.'s 
whistle.  Then  Sartoris  swung  a  chair  at  the  single  light. 

It  was  cold  in  the  street,  a  cold  that  penetrated  the  cloth- 
ing, the  alcohol-distended  pores,  and  murmured  to  the  skele- 
ton itself.  The  plaza  was  empty,  the  lights  infrequent  and 
remote.  So  quiet  it  was  that  I  could  hear  the  faint  water  in 
the  fountain.  From  some  distance  away  came  sound,  remote 
too  under  the  thick  low  sky — shouting,  far-heard,  on  a  thin 
female  note  like  all  shouting,  even  a  mob  of  men,  broken  now 
and  then  by  the  sound  of  a  band.  In  the  shadow  of  the  wall 
Monaghan  and  Comyn  held  the  German  on  his  feet.  He  was 
unconscious;  the  three  of  them  invisible  save  for  the  faint 
blur  of  the  bandage,  inaudible  save  for  the  steady  monotone 
of  Monaghan's  cursing. 

"There  should  never  have  been  an  alliance  between 
Frenchmen  and  Englishmen,"  the  subadar  said.  He  spoke 
without  effort;  invisible,  his  effortless  voice  had  an  organ 
quality,  out  of  all  proportion  to  his  size.  "Different  nations 
should  never  join  forces  to  fight  for  the  same  object.  Let  each 
fight  for  something  different;  ends  that  do  not  conflict,  each 
in  his  own  way."  Sartoris  passed  us,  returning  from  the  foun- 
tain, carrying  his  bulging  cap  carefully  before  him,  bottom- 
up.  We  could  hear  the  water  dripping  from  it  between  his 
footsteps.  He  became  one  of  the  blob  of  thicker  shadow 
where  the  bandage  gleamed  and  where  Monaghan  cursed 
steadily  and  quietly.  "And  each  after  his  own  tradition,"  the 
subadar  said.  "My  people.  The  English  gave  them  rifles.  They 
looked  at  them  and  came  to  me:  'This  spear  is  too  short  and 
too  heavy:  how  can  a  man  slay  a  swift  enemy  with  a  spear 
of  this  size  and  weight?'  They  gave  them  tunics  with  buttons 
to  be  kept  buttoned;  I  have  passed  a  whole  trench  of  them 
sauatting,  motionless,  buried  to  the  ears  in  blankets,  straw, 


Ad  Astra  425 

empty  sand  bags,  their  faces  gray  with  cold;  I  have  lifted  the 
blankets  away  from  patient  torsos  clad  only  in  a  shirt. 

"The  English  officers  would  say  to  them,  'Go  there  and  do 
thus';  they  would  not  stir.  Then  one  day  at  full  noon  the 
whole  battalion,  catching  movement  beyond  a  crater,  sprang 
from  the  trench,  carrying  me  and  an  officer  with  it.  We 
carried  the  trench  without  firing  a  shot;  what  was  left  of  us — 
the  officer,  I,  and  seventeen  others — lived  three  days  in  a 
traverse  of  the  enemy's  front  line;  it  required  a  whole  brigade 
to  extricate  us.  'Why  didn't  you  shoot? '  the  officer  said.  'You 
let  them  pick  you  off  like  driven  pheasant.'  They  did  not 
look  at  him.  Like  children  they  stood,  murmurous,  alert, 
without  shame.  I  said  to  the  headman,  'Were  the  rifles  loaded, 
O  Das?'  Like  children  they  stood,  diffident,  without  shame. 
'O  Son  of  many  kings,'  Das  said.  'Speak  the  truth  of  thy 
knowing  to  the  sahib,'  I  said.  'They  were  not  loaded,  sahib,' 
Das  said." 

Again  the  band  came,  remote,  thudding  in  the  thick  air. 
They  were  giving  the  German  drink  from  a  bottle.  Mon- 
aghan  said:  "Now.  Feel  better  now?" 

"It  iss  mine  head,"  the  German  said.  They  spoke  quietly, 
like  they  were  discussing  wall-paper. 

Monaghan  cursed  again.  "I'm  going  back.  By  God,  I — " 

"No,  no,"  the  German  said.  "I  will  not  permit.  You  haf 
already  obligated — " 

We  stood  in  the  shadow  beneath  the  wall  and  drank.  We 
had  one  bottle  left.  Comyn  crashed  it,  empty,  against  the 
wall. 

"Now  what?"  Bland  said. 

"Girls,"  Comyn  said.  "Would  ye  watch  Comyn  of  the 
Irish  nation  among  the  yellow  hair  of  them  like  a  dog  among 
the  wheat?" 

We  stood  there,  hearing  the  far  band,  the  far  shouting. 
"You  sure  you  feel  all  right?"  Monaghan  said. 

"Thanks,"  the  German  said.  "I  feel  goot." 


426  The  Wasteland 

"Come  on,  then,"  Comyn  said. 

"You  going  to  take  him  with  you?"  Bland  said. 

"Yes,"  Monaghan  said.  "What  of  it?" 

"Why  not  take  him  on  to  the  A.P.M.?  He's  sick." 

"Do  you  want  me  to  bash  your  bloody  face  in?"  Mon- 
aghan said. 

"All  right,"  Bland  said. 

"Come  on,"  Comyn  said.  "What  fool  would  rather  fight 
than  fush?  All  men  are  brothers,  and  all  their  wives  are  sis- 
ters. So  come  along,  yez  midnight  fusileers." 

"Look  here,"  Bland  said  to  the  German,  "do  you  want  to 
go  with  them?"  With  his  bandaged  head,  he  and  the  subadar 
alone  were  visible,  like  two  injured  men  among  five  spirits. 

"Hold  him  up  a  minute,"  Monaghan  told  Comyn.  Mona- 
ghan approached  Bland.  He  cursed  Bland.  "I  like  fighting," 
he  said,  in  that  same  monotone.  "I  even  like  being  whipped." 

"Wait,"  the  German  said.  "Again  I  will  not  permit."  Mon- 
aghan halted,  he  and  Bland  not  a  foot  apart.  "I  haf  wife  and 
son  in  Beyreuth,"  the  German  said.  He  was  speaking  to  me, 
He  gave  me  the  address,  twice,  carefully. 

"I'll  write  to  her,"  I  said.  "What  shall  I  tell  her?" 

"Tell  her  it  iss  nothing.  You  will  know." 

"Yes.  I'll  tell  her  you  are  all  right." 

"Tell  her  this  life  iss  nothing." 

Comyn  and  Monaghan  took  his  arms  again,  one  on  either 
side.  They  turned  and  went  on,  almost  carrying  him.  Comyn 
looked  back  once.  "Peace  be  with  you,"  he  said. 

"And  with  you,  peace,"  the  subadar  said.  They  went  on. 
We  watched  them  come  into  silhouette  in  the  mouth  of  an 
alley  where  a  light  was.  There  was  an  arch  there,  and  the 
faint  cold  pale  light  on  the  arch  and  on  the  walls  so  that  it 
was  like  a  gate  and  they  entering  the  gate,  holding  the  Ger- 
man up  between  them. 

"What  will  they  do  with  him?"  Bland  said.  "Prop  him  in 


Ad  Astra  427 

the  corner  and  turn  the  light  off?  Or  do  French  brothels  have 
he-beds  too?" 

"Who  the  hell's  business  is  that?"  I  said. 

The  sound  of  the  band  came,  thudding;  it  was  cold.  Each 
time  my  flesh  jerked  with  alcohol  and  cold  I  believed  that  I 
could  hear  it  rasp  on  the  bones. 

"Since  seven  years  now  I  have  been  in  this  climate,"  the 
subadar  said.  "But  still  I  do  not  like  the  cold."  His  voice  was 
deep,  quiet,  like  he  might  be  six  feet  tall.  It  was  like  when 
they  made  him  they  said  among  themselves,  "We'll  give  him 
something  to  carry  his  message  around  with."  "Why?  Who'll 
listen  to  his  message?"  "He  will.  So  we'll  give  him  something 
to  hear  it  with." 

"Why  dont  you  go  back  to  India  then?"  Bland  said. 

"Ah,"  the  subadar  said.  "I  am  like  him;  I  too  will  not  be 
baron." 

"So  you  clear  out  and  let  foreigners  who  will  treat  the 
people  like  oxen  or  rabbits  come  in  and  take  it." 

"By  removing  myself  I  undid  in  one  day  what  it  took  two 
thousand  years  to  do.  Is  not  that  something?" 

We  shook  with  the  cold.  Now  the  cold  was  the  band,  the 
shouting,  murmuring  with  cold  hands  to  the  skeleton,  not 
the  ears. 

"Well,"  Bland  said,  "I  suppose  the  English  government  is 
doing  more  to  free  your  people  than  you  could." 

The  subadar  touched  Bland  on  the  chest,  lightly.  "You  are 
wise,  my  friend.  Let  England  be  glad  that  all  Englishmen  are 
not  so  wise." 

"So  you  will  be  an  exile  for  the  rest  of  your  days,  eh?" 

The  subadar  jerked  his  short,  thick  arm  toward  the  empty 
arch  where  Comyn  and  the  German  and  Monaghan  had  dis- 
appeared. "Did  you  not  hear  what  he  said?  This  life  is 
nothing." 

"You  can  think  so,"  Bland  said.  "But,  by  God,  I'd  hate  to 


428  The  Wasteland 

think  that  what  I  saved  out  of  the  last  three  years  is  nothing." 

"You  saved  a  dead  man,"  the  subadar  said  serenely.  "You 
will  see." 

"I  saved  my  destiny,"  Bland  said.  "You  nor  nobody  else 
knows  what  that  will  be." 

"What  is  your  destiny  except  to  be  dead?  It  is  unfortunate 
that  your  generation  had  to  be  the  one.  It  is  unfortunate  that 
for  the  better  part  of  your  days  you  will  walk  the  earth  a 
spirit.  But  that  was  your  destiny."  From  far  away  came  the 
shouting,  on  that  sustained  note,  feminine  and  childlike  all  at 
once,  and  then  the  band  again,  brassy,  thudding,  like  the 
voices,  forlornly  gay,  hysteric,  but  most  of  all  forlorn.  The 
arch  in  the  cold  glow  of  the  light  yawned  empty,  profound, 
silent,  like  the  gate  to  another  city,  another  world.  Suddenly 
Sartoris  left  us.  He  walked  steadily  to  the  wall  and  leaned 
against  it  on  his  propped  arms,  vomiting. 

"Hell,"  Bland  said.  "I  want  a  drink."  He  turned  to  me. 
"Where's  your  bottle?" 

"It's  gone." 

"Gone  where?  You  had  two." 

"I  haven't  got  one  now,  though.  Drink  water." 

"Water?"  he  said.  "Who  the  hell  drinks  water?" 

Then  the  hot  hard  ball  came  into  my  stomach  again,  pleas- 
ant, unbearable,  real;  again  that  instant  when  you  say  Now. 
Now  I  can  dump  everything.  "You  will,  you  goddamn  son," 
I  said. 

Bland  was  not  looking  at  me.  "Twice,"  he  said  in  a  quiet, 
detached  tone.  "Twice  in  an  hour.  How's  that  for  high?" 
He  turned  and  went  toward  the  fountain.  Sartoris  came  back, 
walking  steadily  erect.  The  band  blent  with  the  cold  along 
the  bones. 

"What  time  is  it?"  I  said. 

Sartoris  peered  at  his  wrist.  "Twelfth." 

"It's  later  than  midnight,"  I  said.  "It  must  be." 


Ad  Astra  429 

"I  said  it  was  the  twelfth,"  Sartoris  said. 

Bland  was  stooping  at  the  fountain.  There  was  a  little  light 
there.  As  we  reached  him  he  stood  up,  mopping  at  his  face. 
The  light  was  on  his  face  and  I  thought  for  some  time  that  he 
must  have  had  his  whole  head  under  to  be  mopping  that 
high  up  his  face  before  I  saw  that  he  was  crying.  He  stood 
there,  mopping  at  his  face,  crying  hard  but  quiet. 

"My  poor  little  wife,"  he  said.  "My  poor  little  wife." 


Victory 


i 

THOSE  WHO  SAW  HIM  descend  from  the  Marseilles  express  in 
the  Gare  de  Lyon  on  that  damp  morning  saw  a  tall  man,  a 
little  stiff,  with  a  bronze  face  and  spike-ended  moustaches 
and  almost  white  hair.  "A  milord,"  they  said,  remarking  his 
sober,  correct  suit,  his  correct  stick  correctly  carried,  his 
sparse  baggage;  "a  milord  military.  But  there  is  something 
the  matter  with  his  eyes."  But  there  was  something  the  mat- 
ter with  the  eyes  of  so  many  people,  men  and  women  too, 
in  Europe  since  four  years  now.  So  they  watched  him  go  on, 
a  half  head  above  the  French  people,  with  his  gaunt,  strained 
eyes,  his  air  strained,  purposeful,  and  at  the  same  time  as- 
sured, and  vanish  into  a  cab,  thinking,  if  they  thought  about 
him  any  more  at  all:  "You  will  see  him  in  the  Legation 
offices  or  at  a  table  on  the  Boulevards,  or  in  a  carriage  with 
the  fine  English  ladies  in  the  Bois."  That  was  all. 

And  those  who  saw  him  descend  from  the  same  cab  at  the 
Gare  du  Nord,  they  thought:  "This  milord  returns  home  by 
haste";  the  porter  who  took  his  bag  wished  him  good  morn- 
ing in  fair  English  and  told  him  that  he  was  going  to  Eng- 
land, receiving  for  reply  the  English  glare  which  the  porter 
perhaps  expected,  and  put  him  into  a  first-class  carriage  of 
the  boat  train.  And  that  was  all,  too.  That  was  all  right,  too, 
even  when  he  got  down  at  Amiens.  English  milords  even  did 

43 l 


432  The  Wasteland 

that.  It  was  only  at  Rozieres  that  they  began  to  look  at  him 
and  after  him  when  he  had  passed. 

In  a  hired  car  he  jounced  through  a  gutted  street  between 
gutted  walls  rising  undoored  and  unwindowed  in  jagged 
shards  in  the  dusk.  The  street  was  partially  blocked  now  and 
then  by  toppled  walls,  with  masses  of  masonry  in  the  cracks 
of  which  a  thin  grass  sprouted,  passing  empty  and  ruined 
courtyards,  in  one  of  which  a  tank,  mute  and  tilted,  rusted 
among  rank  weeds.  This  was  Rozieres,  but  he  didn't  stop 
there  because  no  one  lived  there  and  there  was  no  place  to 
stop. 

So  the  car  jounced  and  crept  on  out  of  the  ruin.  The 
muddy  and  unpaved  street  entered  a  village  of  harsh  new 
brick  and  sheet  iron  and  tarred  paper  roofs  made  in  America, 
and  halted  before  the  tallest  house.  It  was  flush  with  the 
street:  a  brick  wall  with  a  door  and  one  window  of  Amer- 
ican glass  bearing  the  word  RESTAURANT.  "Here  you  are,  sir," 
the  driver  said. 

The  passenger  descended,  with  his  bag,  his  ulster,  his  cor- 
rect stick.  He  entered  a  biggish,  bare  room  chill  with  new 
plaster.  It  contained  a  billiard  table  at  which  three  men 
played.  One  of  the  men  looked  over  his  shoulder  and  said, 

"Bonjour,  monsieur." 

The  newcomer  did  not  reply  at  all.  He  crossed  the  room, 
passing  the  new  zinc  bar,  and  approached  an  open  door  be- 
yond which  a  woman  of  any  age  around  forty  looked  at 
him  above  the  sewing  on  her  lap. 

"Bong  jour,  madame,"  he  said.  "Dormie,  madame?" 

The  woman  gave  him  a  single  glance,  brief,  still.  "C'est  ga, 
monsieur,"  she  said,  rising. 

"Dormie,  madame?"  he  said,  raising  his  voice  a  little,  his 
spiked  moustache  beaded  a  little  with  rain,  dampness  be- 
neath his  strained  yet  assured  eyes.  "Dormie,  madame?" 

"Bon,  monsieur,"  the  woman  said.  "Bon.  Bon." 


Victory  433 

"Dor — "  the  newcomer  essayed  again.  Someone  touched 
his  arm.  It  was  the  man  who  had  spoken  from  the  billiard 
table  when  he  entered. 

"Regardez,  Monsieur  1'Anglais,"  the  man  said.  He  took 
the  bag  from  the  newcomer  and  swept  his  other  arm  toward 
the  ceiling.  "La  chambre."  He  touched  the  traveler  again; 
he  laid  his  face  upon  his  palm  and  closed  his  eyes;  he  ges- 
tured again  toward  the  ceiling  and  went  on  across  the  room 
toward  a  wooden  stair  without  balustrade.  As  he  passed  the 
bar  he  took  a  candle  stub  from  it  and  lit  the  candle  (the  big 
room  and  the  room  beyond  the  door  where  the  woman  sat 
were  lighted  by  single  bulbs  hanging  naked  on  cords  from 
the  ceiling)  at  the  foot  of  the  stair. 

They  mounted,  thrusting  their  fitful  shadows  before  them, 
into  a  corridor  narrow,  chill,  and  damp  as  a  tomb.  The  walls 
were  of  rough  plaster  not  yet  dried.  The  floor  was  of  pine, 
without  carpet  or  paint.  Cheap  metal  doorknobs  glinted  sym- 
metrically. The  sluggish  air  lay  like  a  hand  upon  the  very 
candle.  They  entered  a  room,  smelling  too  of  wet  plaster,  and 
even  colder  than  the  corridor;  a  sluggish  chill  almost  sub- 
stantial, as  though  the  atmosphere  between  the  dead  and 
recent  walls  were  congealing,  like  a  patent  three-minute 
dessert.  The  room  contained  a  bed,  a  dresser,  a  chair,  a  wash- 
stand;  the  bowl,  pitcher,  and  slop  basin  were  of  American 
enamel.  When  the  traveler  touched  the  bed  the  linen  was 
soundless  under  his  hand,  coarse  as  sacking,  clinging  damply 
to  the  hand  in  the  dead  air  in  which  their  two  breathings 
vaporized  in  the  faint  candle. 

The  host  set  the  candle  on  the  dresser.  "Diner,  monsieur?" 
he  said.  The  traveler  stared  down  at  the  host,  incongruous  in 
his  correct  clothes,  with  that  strained  air.  His  waxed  mous- 
taches gleamed  like  faint  bayonets  above  a  cravat  stripeG 
with  what  the  host  could  not  have  known  was  the  patterned 
coloring  of  a  Scottish  regiment.  "Manger?"  the  host  shouted. 


434  The  Wasteland 

He  chewed  violently  in  pantomime.  "Manger?"  he  roared, 
his  shadow  aping  his  gesture  as  he  pointed  toward  the  floor. 

"Yes,"  the  traveler  shouted  in  reply,  their  faces  not  a  yard 
apart.  "Yes.  Yes." 

The  host  nodded  violently,  pointed  toward  the  floor  and 
then  at  the  door,  nodded  again,  went  out. 

He  returned  below  stairs.  He  found  the  woman  now  in 
the  kitchen,  at  the  stove.  "He  will  eat,"  the  host  said. 

"I  knew  that,"  the  woman  said. 

"You  would  think  that  they  would  stay  at  home,"  the  host 
said.  "Fm  glad  I  was  not  born  of  a  race  doomed  to  a  place 
too  small  to  hold  all  of  us  at  one  time." 

"Perhaps  he  has  come  to  look  at  the  war,"  the  woman  said. 

"Of  course  he  has,"  the  host  said.  "But  he  should  have 
come  four  years  ago.  That  was  when  we  needed  Englishmen 
to  look  at  the  war." 

"He  was  too  old  to  come  then,"  the  woman  said.  "Didn't 
you  see  his  hair?" 

"Then  let  him  stay  at  home  now,"  the  host  said.  "He  is 
no  younger." 

"He  may  have  come  to  look  at  the  grave  of  his  son,"  the 
woman  said. 

"Him?"  the  host  said.  "That  one?  Fie  is  too  cold  to  ever 
have  had  a  son." 

"Perhaps  you  are  right,"  the  woman  said.  "After  all,  that 
is  his  affair.  It  is  our  affair  only  that  he  has  money." 

"That's  right,"  the  host  said.  "A  man  in  this  business,  he 
cannot  pick  and  choose." 

"He  can  pick,  though,"  the  woman  said. 

"Good!"  the  host  said.  "Very  good!  Pick!  That  is  worth 
telling  to  the  English  himself." 

"Why  not  let  him  find  it  out  when  he  leaves?" 

"Good!"  the  host  said.  "Better  still.  Good!  Oh,  good!" 

"Attention,"  the  woman  said.  "Here  he  comes." 


Victory  435 

They  listened  to  the  traveler's  steady  tramp,  then  he  ap- 
peared in  the  door.  Against  the  lesser  light  of  the  biggei 
room,  his  dark  face  and  his  white  hair  looked  like  a  kodak 
negative. 

The  table  was  set  for  two,  a  carafe  of  red  wine  at  each 
place.  As  the  traveller  seated  himself,  the  other  guest  en- 
tered and  took  the  other  place — a  small,  rat-faced  man  who 
appeared  at  first  glance  to  have  no  eyelashes  at  all.  He 
tucked  his  napkin  into  the  top  of  his  vest  and  took  up  the 
soup  ladle  (the  tureen  sat  between  them  in  the  center  of  the 
table)  and  offered  it  to  the  other.  "Faites-moi  Thonneur, 
monsieur,"  he  said.  The  other  bowed  stiffly,  accepting  the 
ladle.  The  small  man  lifted  the  cover  from  the  tureen.  "Vous 
venez  examiner  ce  scene  de  nos  victoires,  monsieur?"  he  said, 
helping  himself  in  turn.  The  other  looked  at  him.  "Monsieur 
1'Anglais  a  peut-etre  beaucoup  des  amis  qui  sont  tombes  en 
voisinage." 

"A  speak  no  French,"  the  other  said,  eating. 

The  little  man  did  not  eat.  He  held  his  yet  unwetted  spoon 
above  his  bowl.  "What  agreeable  for  me.  I  speak  the  Eng- 
leesh.  I  am  Suisse,  me.  I  speak  all  langue."  The  other  did  not 
reply.  He  ate  steadily,  not  fast.  "You  ave  return  to  see  the 
grave  of  your  galant  countreemans,  eh?  You  ave  son  here, 
perhaps,  eh?" 

"No,"  the  other  said.  He  did  not  cease  to  eat. 

"No?"  The  other  finished  his  soup  and  set  the  bowl  aside. 
He  drank  some  wine.  "What  deplorable,  that  man  who  ave," 
the  Swiss  said.  "But  it  is  finish  now.  Not?"  Again  the  other 
said  nothing.  He  was  not  looking  at  the  Swiss.  He  did  not 
seem  to  be  looking  at  anything,  with  his  gaunt  eyes,  his  rigid 
moustaches  upon  his  rigid  face.  "Me,  I  suffer  too.  All  suffer. 
But  I  tell  myself,  What  would  you?  It  is  war." 

Still  the  other  did  not  answer.  He  ate  steadily,  deliberately, 
and  finished  his  meal  and  rose  and  left  the  room.  He  lit  his 


43 6  The  Wasteland 

candle  at  the  bar,  where  the  host,  leaning  beside  a  second 
man  in  a  corduroy  coat,  lifted  a  glass  slightly  to  him.  "Au 
bon  dormir,  monsieur,"  the  host  said. 

The  traveler  looked  at  the  host,  his  face  gaunt  in  the 
candle,  his  waxed  moustaches  rigid,  his  eyes  in  shadow. 
"What?"  he  said.  "Yes.  Yes."  He  turned  and  went  toward 
the  stairs.  The  two  men  at  the  bar  watched  him,  his  stiff, 
deliberate  back. 

Ever  since  the  train  left  Arras,  the  two  women  had  been 
watching  the  other  occupant  of  the  carriage.  It  was  a  third- 
class  carriage  because  no  first-class  trains  ran  on  this  line,  and 
they  sat  with  their  shawled  heads  and  the  thick,  still  hands  of 
peasants  folded  upon  closed  baskets  on  their  laps,  watching 
the  man  sitting  opposite  them — the  white  distinction  of  the 
hair  against  the  bronze,  gaunt  face,  the  needles  of  the  mous- 
taches, the  foreign-made  suit  and  the  stick — on  a  worn  and 
greasy  wooden  seat,  looking  out  the  window.  At  first  they 
had  just  looked,  ready  to  avert  their  gaze,  but  as  the  man  did 
not  seem  to  be  aware  of  them,  they  began  to  whisper  quietly 
to  one  another  behind  their  hands.  But  the  man  did  not  seem 
to  notice  this,  so  they  soon  were  talking  in  undertone,  watch- 
ing with  bright,  alert,  curious  eyes  the  stiff,  incongruous 
figure  leaning  a  little  forward  on  the  stick,  looking  out  a  foul 
window  beyond  which  there  was  nothing  to  see  save  an 
occasional  shattered  road  and  man-high  stump  of  shattered 
tree  breaking  small  patches  of  tilled  land  whorled  with  ap- 
parent unreason  about  islands  of  earth  indicated  by  low 
signboards  painted  red,  the  islands  inscrutable,  desolate  above 
the  destruction  which  they  wombed.  Then  the  train,  slow- 
ing, ran  suddenly  among  tumbled  brick,  out  of  which  rose 
a  small  house  of  corrugated  iron  bearing  a  name  in  big  letters; 
they  watched  the  man  lean  forward. 

"See!"  one  of  the  women  said.  "His  mouth.  He  is  reading 


Victory  437 

the  name.  What  did  I  tell  you?  It  is  as  I  said.  His  son  fell 
here." 

"Then  he  had  lots  of  sons,"  the  other  woman  said.  "He  has 
read  the  name  each  time  since  we  left  Arras.  Eh!  Eh!  Him  a 
son?  That  cold?" 

"They  do  get  children,  though." 

"That  is  why  they  drink  whisky.  Otherwise  .  .  ." 

"That's  so.  They  think  of  nothing  save  money  and  eating, 
the  English." 

Presently  they  got  out;  the  train  went  on.  Then  others 
entered  the  carriage,  other  peasants  with  muddy  boots, 
carrying  baskets  or  live  or  dead  beasts;  they  in  turn  watched 
the  rigid,  motionless  figure  leaning  at  the  window  while  the 
train  ran  across  the  ruined  land  and  past  the  brick  or  iron 
stations  among  the  tumbled  ruins,  watching  his  lips  move  as 
he  read  the  names.  "Let  him  look  at  the  war,  about  which  he 
has  apparently  heard  at  last,"  they  told  one  another.  "Then 
he  can  go  home.  It  was  not  in  his  barnyard  that  it  was 
fought." 

"Nor  in  his  house,"  a  woman  said. 

II 

THE  BATTALION  stands  at  ease  in  the  rain.  It  has  been  in  rest 
billets  two  days,  equipment  has  been  replaced  and  cleaned, 
vacancies  have  been  filled  and  the  ranks  closed  up,  and  it  now 
stands  at  ease  with  the  stupid  docility  of  sheep  in  the  ceaseless 
rain,  facing  the  streaming  shape  of  the  sergeant-major. 

Presently  the  colonel  emerges  from  a  door  across  the 
square.  He  stands  in  the  door  a  moment,  fastening  his  trench 
coat,  then,  followed  by  two  A.D.C's,  he  steps  gingerly  into 
the  mud  in  polished  boots  and  approaches. 

"Para-a-a-de — 'Shun!"  the  sergeant-major  shouts.  The 
battalion  clashes,  a  single  muffled,  sullen  sound.  The  sergeant- 


438  The  Wasteland 

major  turns,  takes  a  pace  toward  the  officers,  and  salutes,  his 
stick  beneath  his  armpit.  The  colonel  jerks  his  stick  toward 
his  cap  peak. 

"Stand  at  ease,  men,"  he  says.  Again  the  battalion  clashes, 
a  single  sluggish,  trickling  sound.  The  officers  approach  the 
guide  file  of  the  first  platoon,  the  sergeant-major  falling  in 
behind  the  last  officer.  The  sergeant  of  the  first  platoon  takes 
a  pace  forward  and  salutes.  The  colonel  does  not  respond  at 
all.  The  sergeant  falls  in  behind  the  sergeant-major,  and  the 
five  of  them  pass  down  the  company  front,  staring  in  turn 
at  each  rigid,  forward-staring  face  as  they  pass  it.  First  Com- 
pany. 

The  sergeant  salutes  the  colonel's  back  and  returns  to  his 
original  position  and  comes  to  attention.  The  sergeant  of  the 
second  company  has  stepped  forward,  saluted,  is  ignored,  and 
falls  in  behind  the  sergeant-major,  and  they  pass  down  the 
second  company  front.  The  colonel's  trench  coat  sheathes 
water  onto  his  polished  boots.  Mud  from  the  earth  creeps  up 
his  boots  and  meets  the  water  and  is  channelled  by  the  water 
as  the  mud  creeps  up  the  polished  boots  again. 

Third  Company.  The  colonel  stops  before  a  soldier,  his 
trench  coat  hunched  about  his  shoulders  where  the  rain 
trickles  from  the  back  of  his  cap,  so  that  he  looks  somehow 
like  a  choleric  and  outraged  bird.  The  other  two  officers,  the 
sergeant-major  and  the  sergeant  halt  in  turn,  and  the  five  of 
them  glare  at  the  five  soldiers  whom  they  are  facing.  The  five 
soldiers  stare  rigid  and  unwinking  straight  before  them,  their 
faces  like  wooden  faces,  their  eyes  like  wooden  eyes. 

"Sergeant,"  the  colonel  says  in  his  pettish  voice,  "has  this 
man  shaved  today?" 

"Sir!"  the  sergeant  says  in  a  ringing  voice;  the  sergeant- 
major  says: 

"Did  this  man  shave  today,  Sergeant?"  and  all  five  of  them 
glare  now  at  the  soldier,  whose  rigid  gaze  seems  to  pass 


Victory  439 

through  and  beyond  them,  as  if  they  were  not  there.  "Take 
a  pace  forward  when  you  speak  in  ranks!"  the  sergeant- 
major  says. 

The  soldier,  who  has  not  spoken,  steps  out  of  ranks,  splash- 
ing a  jet  of  mud  yet  higher  up  the  colonel's  boots. 

"What  is  your  name?"  the  colonel  says. 

"024 1 86. Gray,"  the  soldier  raps  out  glibly.  The  company, 
the  battalion,  stares  straight  ahead. 

"Sir!"  the  sergeant-major  thunders. 

"Sir-r,"  the  soldier  says. 

"Did  you  shave  this  morning?"  the  colonel  says. 

"Nae,  sir-r." 

"Why  not?" 

"A  dinna  shave,  sir-r." 

"You  dont  shave?" 

"A  am  nae  auld  enough  tae  shave." 

"Sir!"  the  sergeant-major  thunders. 

"Sir-r,"  the  soldier  says. 

"You  are  not  .  .  ."  The  colonel's  voice  dies  somewhere 
behind  his  choleric  glare,  the  trickling  water  from  his  cap 
peak.  "Take  his  name,  Sergeant-major,"  he  says,  passing  on. 

The  battalion  stares  rigidly  ahead.  Presently  it  sees  the 
colonel,  the  two  officers  and  the  sergeant-major  reappear  in 
single  file.  At  the  proper  place  the  sergeant-major  halts  and 
salutes  the  colonel's  back.  The  colonel  jerks  his  stick  hand 
again  and  goes  on,  followed  by  the  two  officers,  at  a  trot 
toward  the  door  from  which  he  had  emerged. 

The  sergeant-major  faces  the  battalion  again.  "Para-a-a- 
de — "  he  shouts.  An  indistinguishable  movement  passes  from 
rank  to  rank,  an  indistinguishable  precursor  of  that  damp  arid 
sullen  clash  which  dies  borning.  The  sergeant-major's  stick 
has  come  down  from  his  armpit;  he  now  leans  on  it,  as  officers 
do.  For  a  time  his  eye  roves  along  the  battalion  front. 

"Sergeant  Cunninghame!"  he  says  at  last. 


440  The  Wasteland 

"Sir!" 

"Did  you  take  that  man's  name?" 

There  is  silence  for  a  moment — a  little  more  than  a  short 
moment,  a  little  less  than  a  long  one.  Then  the  sergeant  says: 
"What  man,  sir?" 

"You,  soldier!"  the  sergeant-major  says. 

The  battalion  stands  rigid.  The  rain  lances  quietly  into  the 
mud  between  it  and  the  sergeant-major  as  though  it  were 
too  spent  to  either  hurry  or  cease. 

"You  soldier  that  dont  shave!"  the  sergeant-major  says. 

"Gray,  sir! "  the  sergeant  says. 

"Gray.  Double  out  'ere." 

The  man  Gray  appears  without  haste  and  tramps  stolidly 
before  the  battalion,  his  kilts  dark  and  damp  and  heavy  as  a 
wet  horse-blanket.  He  halts,  facing  the  sergeant-major. 

"Why  didn't  you  shave  this  morning?"  the  sergeant-major 
says. 

"A  am  nae  auld  enough  tae  shave,"  Gray  says. 

"Sir!"  the  sergeant-major  says. 

Gray  stares  rigidly  beyond  the  sergeant-major's  shoulder. 

"Say  sir  when  addressing  a  first-class  warrant  officer!"  the 
sergeant-major  says.  Gray  stares  doggedly  past  his  shoulder, 
his  face  beneath  his  vizorless  bonnet  as  oblivious  of  the  cold 
lances  of  rain  as  though  it  were  granite.  The  sergeant-major 
raises  his  voice: 

"Sergeant  Cunninghame!" 

"Sir!" 

"Take  this  man's  name  for  insubordination  also." 

"Very  good,  sir! " 

The  sergeant-major  looks  at  Gray  again.  "And  I'll  see  that 
you  get  the  penal  battalion,  my  man.  Fall  in!" 

Gray  turns  without  haste  and  returns  to  his  place  in  ranks, 
the  sergeant-major  watching  him.  The  sergeant-major  raises 
his  voice  again: 


Victory  441 

"Sergeant  Cunninghame!" 

"Sir!" 

"You  did  not  take  that  man's  name  when  ordered.  Let  that 
happen  again  and  you'll  be  for  it  yourself." 

"Very  good,  sir!" 

"Carry  on!"  the  sergeant-major  says. 

"But  why  did  ye  no  shave?"  the  corporal  asked  him.  They 
were  back  in  billets:  a  stone  barn  with  leprous  walls,  where 
no  light  entered,  squatting  in  the  ammoniac  air  on  wet  straw 
about  a  reeking  brazier.  "Ye  kenned  we  were  for  inspection 
thae  mor-rn." 

"A  am  nae  auld  enough  tae  shave,"  Gray  said. 

"But  ye  kenned  thae  colonel  would  mar-rk  ye  on  parade." 

"A  am  nae  auld  enough  tae  shave,"  Gray  repeated  dog- 
gedly and  without  heat. 

Ill 

"FOR  TWO  HUNDRED  YEARS,"  Matthew  Gray  said,  "there's 
never  a  day,  except  Sunday,  has  passed  but  there  is  a  hull 
rising  on  Clyde  or  a  hull  going  out  of  Clydemouth  with  a 
Gray-driven  nail  in  it."  He  looked  at  young  Alec  across  his 
steel  spectacles,  his  neck  bowed.  "And  not  excepting  their 
godless  Sabbath  hammering  and  sawing  either.  Because  if  a 
hull  could  be  built  in  a  day,  Grays  could  build  it,"  he  added 
with  dour  pride.  "And  now,  when  you  are  big  enough  to 
go  down  to  the  yards  with  your  grandadder  and  me  and 
take  a  man's  place  among  men,  to  be  trusted  manlike  with 
hammer  and  saw  yersel." 

"Whisht,  Matthew,"  old  Alec  said.  "The  lad  can  saw  as 
straight  a  line  and  drive  as  mony  a  nail  a  day  as  yersel  or 
even  me." 

Matthew  paid  his  father  no  attention.  He  continued  to 
speak  his  slow,  considered  words,  watching  his  oldest  son 


442  The  Wasteland 

across  the  spectacles.  "And  with  John  Wesley  not  old 
enough  by  two  years,  and  wee  Matthew  by  ten,  and  your 
grandfather  an  auld  man  will  soon  be — " 

"Whisht,"  old  Alec  said.  "I'm  no  but  sixty-eight.  Will  you 
be  telling  the  lad  he'll  make  his  bit  journey  to  London  and 
come  back  to  find  me  in  the  parish  house,  mayhap?  'Twill 
be  over  by  Christmastide." 

"Christmasride  or  no,"  Matthew  said,  "a  Gray,  a  ship- 
wright, has  no  business  at  an  English  war." 

"Whisht  ye,"  old  Alec  said.  He  rose  and  went  to  the  chim- 
ney cupboard  and  returned,  carrying  a  box.  It  was  of  wood, 
dark  and  polished  with  age,  the  corners  bound  with  iron,  and 
fitted  with  an  enormous  iron  lock  which  any  child  with  a 
hairpin  could  have  solved.  From  his  pocket  he  took  an  iron 
key  almost  as  big  as  the  lock.  He  opened  the  box  and  lifted 
carefully  out  a  small  velvet-covered  jeweler's  box  and  opened 
it  in  turn.  On  the  satin  lining  lay  a  medal,  a  bit  of  bronze  on 
a  crimson  ribbon:  a  Victoria  Cross.  "I  kept  the  hulls  going  out 
of  Clydemouth  while  your  uncle  Simon  was  getting  this  bit 
of  brass  from  the  Queen,"  old  Alec  said.  "I  heard  naught  of 
complaint.  And  if  need  be,  I'll  keep  them  going  out  while 
Alec  serves  the  Queen  a  bit  himsel.  Let  the  lad  go,"  he  said. 
He  put  the  medal  back  into  the  wooden  box  and  locked  it. 
"A  bit  fighting  winna  hurt  the  lad.  If  I  were  his  age,  or  yours 
either,  for  that  matter,  I'd  gang  mysel.  Alec,  lad,  hark  ye. 
Ye'll  see  if  they'll  no  take  a  hale  lad  of  sixty-eight  and  I'll 
gang  wi  ye  and  leave  the  auld  folk  like  Matthew  to  do  the 
best  they  can.  Nay,  Matthew;  dinna  ye  thwart  the  lad;  have 
no  the  Grays  ever  served  the  Queen  in  her  need?" 

So  young  Alec  went  to  enlist,  descending  the  hill  on  a 
weekday  in  his  Sunday  clothes,  with  a  New  Testament  and 
a  loaf  of  homebaked  bread  tied  in  a  handkerchief.  And  this 
was  the  last  day's  work  which  old  Alec  ever  did,  for  soon 
after  that,  one  morning  Matthew  descended  the  hill  to  the 


Victory  443 

shipyard  alone,  leaving  old  Alec  at  home.  And  after  that,  on 
the  sunny  days  (and  sometimes  on  the  bad  days  too,  until  his 
daughter-in-law  found  him  and  drove  him  back  into  the 
house)  he  would  sit  shawled  in  a  chair  on  the  porch,  gazing 
south  and  eastward,  calling  now  and  then  to  his  son's  wife 
within  the  house:  "Hark  now.  Do  you  hear  them?  The 
guns." 

"I  hear  nothing,'7  the  daughter-in-law  would  say.  "It's  only 
the  sea  at  Kinkeadbight.  Come  into  the  house,  now.  Matthew 
will  be  displeased." 

"Whisht,  woman.  Do  you  think  there  is  a  Gray  in  the 
world  could  let  off  a  gun  and  me  not  know  the  sound  of  it?" 

They  had  a  letter  from  him  shortly  after  he  enlisted,  from 
England,  in  which  he  said  that  being  a  soldier,  England,  was 
different  from  being  a  shipwright,  Clydeside,  and  that  he 
would  write  again  later.  Which  he  did,  each  month  or  so, 
writing  that  soldiering  was  different  from  building  ships  and 
that  it  was  still  raining.  Then  they  did  not  hear  from  him  for 
seven  months.  But  his  mother  and  father  continued  to  write 
him  a  joint  letter  on  the  first  Monday  of  each  month,  letters 
almost  identical  with  the  previous  one,  the  previous  dozen: 

We  are  well.  Ships  are  going  out  of  Clyde  faster  than  they 
can  sink  them.  You  still  have  the  Book? 

This  would  be  in  his  father's  slow,  indomitable  hand.  Then, 
in  his  mother's: 

Are  you  'well?  Do  you  need  anything?  Jessie  and  I  are  knit- 
ting the  stockings  and  will  send  them.  Alec,  Alec. 

He  received  this  one  during  the  seven  months,  during  his 
term  in  the  penal  battalion,  forwarded  to  him  by  his  old 
corporal,  since  he  had  not  told  his  people  of  his  changed  life. 
He  answered  it,  huddled  among  his  fellow  felons,  squatting 


444  The  Wastelana 

in  the  mud  with  newspapers  buttoned  inside  his  tunic  and 
his  head  and  feet  wrapped  in  strips  of  torn  blanket: 

/  am  'well.  Yes  I  still  have  the  Book  (not  telling  them  that  his 
platoon  was  using  it  to  light  tobacco  with  and  that  they  were 
now  well  beyond  Lamentations).  It  still  rains.  Love  to  Gran- 
dadder  and  Jessie  and  Matthew  and  John  Wesley. 

Then  his  time  in  the  penal  battalion  was  up.  He  returned 
to  his  old  company,  his  old  platoon,  finding  some  new  faces, 
and  a  letter: 

We  are  'well.  Ships  are  going  out  of  Clyde  yet.  You  have  a 
new  sister.  Your  Mother  is  well. 

He  folded  the  letter  and  put  it  away.  "A  see  mony  new 
faces  in  thae  battalion,"  he  said  to  the  corporal.  "We  ha  a 
new  sair-rgeant-major  too,  A  doot  not?" 

"Naw,"  the  corporal  said.  "  'Tis  the  same  one."  He  was 
looking  at  Gray,  his  gaze  intent,  speculative;  his  face  cleared. 
"Ye  ha  shaved  thae  mor-rn,"  he  said. 

"Ay,"  Gray  said.  "Am  auld  enough  tae  shave  noo." 

That  was  the  night  on  which  the  battalion  was  to  go  up  to 
Arras.  It  was  to  move  at  midnight,  so  he  answered  the  letter 
at  once: 

/  am  well.  Love  to  Grandadder  and  Jessie  and  Matthew  and 
John  Wesley  and  the  baby. 

"Morning!  Morning!"  The  General,  lap-robed  and 
hooded,  leans  from  his  motor  and  waves  his  gloved  hand  and 
shouts  cheerily  to  them  as  they  slog  past  the  car  on  the 
Bapaume  road,  taking  the  ditch  to  pass. 

"A's  a  cheery  auld  card,"  a  voice  says. 

"Awfficers,"  a  second  drawls;  he  falls  to  cursing  as  he  slips 
in  the  greaselike  mud,  trying  to  cling  to  the  crest  of  the 
kneedeep  ditch. 


Victory  445 

"Aweel,"  a  third  says,  "thae  awfficers  wud  gang  tae  thae 
war-r  too,  A  doot  not." 

"Why  dinna  they  gang  then?"  a  fourth  says.  "Thae  war-r 
is  no  back  that  way." 

Platoon  by  platoon  they  slip  and  plunge  into  the  ditch  and 
drag  their  heavy  feet  out  of  the  clinging  mud  and  pass  the 
halted  car  and  crawl  terrifically  onto  the  crown  of  the  road 
again:  "A  says  tae  me,  a  says:  'Fritz  has  a  new  gun  that  will 
carry  to  Par-ris,'  a  says,  and  A  says  tae  him:  *  'Tis  nawthin: 
a  has  one  that  will  hit  our  Cor-rps  Headquar-rters.'  " 

"Morning!  Morning!"  The  General  continues  to  wave 
his  glove  and  shout  cheerily  as  the  battalion  detours  into  the 
ditch  and  heaves  itself  back  onto  the  road  again. 

They  are  in  the  trench.  Until  the  first  rifle  explodes  in  their 
faces,  not  a  shot  has  been  fired.  Gray  is  the  third  man.  Dur- 
ing all  the  while  that  they  crept  between  flares  from  shell- 
hole  to  shellhole,  he  has  been  working  himself  nearer  to  the 
sergeant-major  and  the  Officer;  in  the  glare  of  that  first  rifle 
he  can  see  the  gap  in  the  wire  toward  which  the  Officer  was 
leading  them,  the  moiled  rigid  glints  of  the  wire  where  bul- 
lets have  nicked  the  mud  and  rust  from  it,  and  against  the 
glare  the  tall,  leaping  shape  of  the  sergeant-major.  Then 
Gray,  too,  springs  bayonet  first  into  the  trench  full  of  grunt- 
ing shouts  and  thudding  blows. 

Flares  go  up  by  dozens  now,  in  the  corpse  glare  Gray  sees 
the  sergeant-major  methodically  tossing  grenades  into  the 
next  traverse.  He  runs  toward  him,  passing  the  Officer  lean- 
ing, bent  double,  against  the  fire  step.  The  sergeant-major 
has  vanished  beyond  the  traverse.  Gray  follows  and  comes 
upon  the  sergeant-major.  Holding  the  burlap  curtain  aside 
with  one  hand,  the  sergeant-major  is  in  the  act  of  tossing  a 
grenade  into  a  dugout  as  if  he  might  be  tossing  an  orange 
hull  into  a  cellar. 


446  The  Wasteland 

The  sergeant-major  turns  in  the  rocket  glare.  "  'Tis  you, 
Gray,"  he  says.  The  earth-muffled  bomb  thuds;  the  sergeant- 
major  is  in  the  act  of  catching  another  bomb  from  the  sack 
about  his  neck  as  Gray's  bayonet  goes  into  his  throat.  The 
sergeant-major  is  a  big  man.  He  falls  backward,  holding  the 
rifle  barrel  v/ith  both  hands  against  his  throat,  his  teeth  glar- 
ing, pulling  Gray  with  him.  Gray  clings  to  the  rifle.  He  tries 
to  shake  the  speared  body  on  the  bayonet  as  he  would  shake 
a  rat  on  an  umbrella  rib. 

He  frees  the  bayonet.  The  sergeant-major  falls.  Gray 
reverses  the  rifle  and  hammers  its  butt  into  the  sergeant- 
major's  face,  but  the  trench  floor  is  too  soft  to  supply  any 
resistance.  He  glares  about.  His  gaze  falls  upon  a  duckboard 
upended  in  the  mud.  He  drags  it  free  and  slips  it  beneath  the 
sergeant-major's  head  and  hammers  the  face  with  his  rifle- 
butt.  Behind  him  in  the  first  traverse  the  Officer  is  shouting: 
•'Blow  your  whistle,  Sergeant-major!" 

IV 

IN  THE  CITATION  it  told  how  Private  Gray,  on  a  night  raid, 
one  of  four  survivors,  following  the  disablement  of  the 
Officer  and  the  death  of  all  the  N.C.O.'s,  took  command  of 
the  situation  and  (the  purpose  of  the  expedition  was  a  quick 
raid  for  prisoners) ;  held  a  foothold  in  the  enemy's  front  line 
until  a  supporting  attack  arrived  and  consolidated  the  posi- 
tion. The  Officer  told  how  he  ordered  the  men  back  out, 
ordering  them  to  leave  him  and  save  themselves,  and  how 
Gray  appeared  with  a  German  machine  gun  from  somewhere 
and,  while  his  three  companions  built  a  barricade,  overcame 
the  Officer  and  took  from  him  his  Very  pistol  and  fired  the 
colored  signal  which  called  for  the  attack;  all  so  quickly  that 
support  arrived  before  the  enemy  could  counterattack  or  put 
down  a  barrage. 


Victory  447 

It  is  doubtful  if  his  people  ever  saw  the  citation  at  all.  Any- 
way, the  letters  which  he  received  from  them  during  his 
sojourn  in  hospital,  the  tenor  of  them,  were  unchanged:  "We 
are  well.  Ships  are  still  going  out." 

His  next  letter  home  was  once  more  months  late.  He  wrote 
it  when  he  was  sitting  up  again,  in  London: 

/  have  been  sick  but  I  am  better  noiv.  I  have  a  ribbon  like  in 
the  box  but  not  all  red.  The  Queen  ivas  there.  Love  to  Gran- 
dadder  and  Jessie  and  Mattheiv  and  John  Wesley  and  the 
baby. 

The  reply  was  written  on  Friday: 

Your  mother  is  glad  that  you  are  better.  Your  grandfather  is 
dead.  The  baby's  name  is  Elizabeth.  We  are  well.  Your 
mother  sends  her  love. 

His  next  letter  was  three  months  later,  in  winter  again: 

My  hurt  is  well.  1  am  going  to  a  school  for  officers.  Love  to 
Jessie  and  Matthew  and  John  Wesley  and  Elizabeth. 

Matthew  Gray  pondered  over  this  letter  for  a  long  while; 
so  long  that  the  reply  was  a  week  late,  written  on  the  second 
Monday  instead  of  the  first.  He  wrote  it  carefully,  waiting 
until  his  family  was  in  bed.  It  was  such  a  long  letter,  or  he 
had  been  at  it  so  long,  that  after  a  time  his  wife  came  into  the 
room  in  her  nightdress. 

"Go  back  to  bed,"  he  told  her.  "I'll  be  coming  soon.  'Tis 
something  to  be  said  to  the  lad." 

When  at  last  he  laid  the  pen  down  and  sat  back  to  reread 
the  letter,  it  was  a  long  one,  written  out  slowly  and  deliber- 
ately and  without  retraction  or  blot: 

. .  .  your  bit  ribbon  . . .  for  that  way  lies  vainglory  and  pride. 
The  pride  and  vainglory  of  going  for  an  officer.  Never  mis- 


448  The  Wasteland 

call  your  birth,  Alec.  You  are  not  a  gentleman.  You  are  a 
Scottish  shipwright.  If  your  grandfather  'were  here  he  would 
not  be  last  to  tell  you  so.  .  .  .  We  are  glad  your  hurt  is  well. 
Your  mother  sends  her  love. 

He  sent  home  the  medal,  and  his  photograph  in  the  new 
tunic  with  the  pips  and  ribbon  and  the  barred  cuffs.  But  he 
did  not  go  home  himself.  He  returned  to  Flanders  in  the 
spring,  with  poppies  blowing  in  the  churned  beet-  and  cab- 
bage-fields. When  his  leaves  came,  he  spent  them  in  London, 
in  the  haunts  of  officers,  not  telling  his  people  that  he  had 
any  leave. 

He  still  had  the  Book.  Occasionally  he  came  upon  it  among 
his  effects  and  opened  it  at  the  jagged  page  where  his  life 
had  changed:  .  . .  and  a  voice  said,  Peter,  raise  thyself;  kill — 

Often  his  batman  would  watch  him  as,  unawares  and  ob- 
livious, he  turned  the  Book  and  mused  upon  the  jagged  page 
— the  ranker,  the  gaunt,  lonely  man  with  a  face  that  belied 
his  years  or  lack  of  them:  a  sobriety,  a  profound  and  mature 
calm,  a  grave  and  deliberate  conviction  of  expression  and 
gesture  ("like  a  mout  be  Haig  hissel,"  the  batman  said) — 
watching  him  at  his  clean  table,  writing  steadily  and  slowly, 
his  tongue  in  his  cheek  as  a  child  writes: 

/  am  well.  It  has  not  rained  in  a  fortnight.  Love  to  Jessie  and 
Matthew  and  John  Wesley  and  Elizabeth. 

Four  days  ago  the  battalion  came  down  from  the  lines.  It 
has  lost  its  major  and  two  captains  and  most  of  the  subalterns, 
so  that  now  the  remaining  captain  is  major,  and  two  sub- 
alterns and  a  sergeant  have  the  companies.  Meanwhile,  re- 
placements have  come  up,  the  ranks  are  filled,  and  the 
battalion  is  going  in  again  tomorrow.  So  today  K  Company 
stands  with  ranks  open  for  inspection  while  the  subaltern- 
captain  (his  name  is  Gray)  moves  slowly  along  each  platoon 
front. 


Victory  449 

He  passes  from  man  to  man,  slowly,  thoroughly,  the  ser- 
geant behind  him.  He  stops. 

"Where  is  your  trenching  tool?"  he  says. 

"Blawn — "  the  soldier  begins.  Then  he  ceases,  staring 
rigidly  before  him. 

"Blawn  out  of  your  pack,  eh?"  the  captain  finishes  for 
him.  "Since  when?  What  battles  have  ye  taken  par-rt  in 
since  four  days?" 

The  soldier  stares  rigidly  across  the  drowsy  street.  The 
captain  moves  on.  "Take  his  name,  Sergeant." 

He  moves  on  to  the  second  platoon,  to  the  third.  He  halts 
again.  He  looks  the  soldier  up  and  down. 

"What  is  your  name?" 

"010801  McLan,  sir-r." 

"Replacement?" 

"Replacement,  sir-r." 

The  captain  moves  on.  "Take  his  name,  Sergeant.  Rifle's 
filthy." 

The  sun  is  setting.  The  village  rises  in  black  silhouette 
against  the  sunset;  the  river  gleams  in  mirrored  fire.  The 
bridge  across  the  river  is  a  black  arch  upon  which  slowly  and 
like  figures  cut  from  black  paper,  men  are  moving. 

The  party  crouches  in  the  roadside  ditch  while  the  captain 
and  the  sergeant  peer  cautiously  across  the  parapet  of  the 
road.  "Do  ye  make  them  out?"  the  captain  says  in  a  low 
voice. 

"Huns,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers.  "A  ken  their-r  hel- 
mets." 

Presently  the  column  has  crossed  the  bridge.  The  captain 
and  the  sergeant  crawl  back  into  the  ditch,  where  the  party 
crouches,  among  them  a  wounded  man  with  a  bandaged  head. 
"Keep  yon  man  quiet,  now,"  the  captain  says. 

He  leads  the  way  along  the  ditch  until  they  reach  the  out- 


450  The  Wasteland 

skirts  of  the  village.  Here  they  are  out  of  the  sun,  and  here 
they  sit  quietly  beneath  a  wall,  surrounding  the  wounded 
man,  while  the  captain  and  the  sergeant  again  crawl  away. 
They  return  in  five  minutes.  "Fix  bayonets,"  the  sergeant 
says  in  a  low  voice.  "Quiet,  now." 

"Wull  A  stay  wi  thae  hur-rt  lad,  Sair-rgent?"  one  whispers, 

"Nay,"  the  sergeant  says.  "A'll  tak's  chance  wi  us.  For- 
rard." 

They  steal  quietly  along  the  wall,  behind  the  captain.  The 
wall  approaches  at  right  angles  to  the  street,  the  road  which 
crosses  the  bridge.  The  captain  raises  his  hand.  They  halt 
and  watch  him  as  he  peers  around  the  corner.  They  are  op- 
posite the  bridgehead.  It  and  the  road  are  deserted;  the  village 
dreams  quietly  in  the  setting  sun.  Against  the  sky  beyond  the 
village  the  dust  of  the  retreating  column  hangs,  turning  to 
rose  and  gold. 

Then  they  hear  a  sound,  a  short,  guttural  word.  Not  ten 
yards  away  and  behind  a  ruined  wall  leveled  breast-high  and 
facing  the  bridge,  four  men  squat  about  a  machine  gun.  The 
captain  raises  his  hand  again.  They  grasp  their  rifles:  a  rush 
of  hobnails  on  cobblestones,  a  cry  of  astonishment  cut  sharply 
off;  blows,  short,  hard  breaths,  curses;  not  a  shot. 

The  man  with  the  bandaged  head  begins  to  laugh,  shrilly, 
until  someone  hushes  him  with  a  hand  that  tastes  like  brass» 
Under  the  captain's  direction  they  bash  in  the  door  of  the 
house  and  drag  the  gun  and  the  four  bodies  into  it.  They 
hoist  the  gun  upstairs  and  set  it  up  in  a  window  looking  down 
upon  the  bridgehead.  The  sun  sinks  further,  the  shadows  fall 
long  and  quiet  across  village  and  river.  The  man  with  the 
bandaged  head  babbles  to  himself. 

Another  column  swings  up  the  road,  dogged  and  orderly 
beneath  coalhod  helmets.  It  crosses  the  bridge  and  passes  on 
through  the  village.  A  party  detaches  itself  from  the  rear  of 
the  column  and  splits  into  three  squads.  Two  of  them  have 


Victory  45 1 

machine  guns,  which  they  set  up  on  opposite  sides  of  the 
street,  the  near  one  utilizing  the  barricade  behind  which  the 
other  gun  had  been  captured.  The  third  squad  returns  to  the 
bridge,  carrying  sappers'  tools  and  explosive.  The  sergeant 
tells  off  six  of  the  nineteen  men,  who  descend  the  stairs 
silently.  The  captain  remains  with  the  gun  in  the  window. 

Again  there  is  a  brief  rush,  a  scuffle,  blows.  From  the  win- 
dow the  captain  sees  the  heads  of  the  machine-gun  crew 
across  the  street  turn,  then  the  muzzle  of  the  gun  swings, 
firing.  The  captain  rakes  them  once  with  his  gun,  then  he 
sweeps  with  it  the  party  on  the  bridge,  watching  it  break 
like  a  covey  of  quail  for  the  nearest  wall.  The  captain  holds 
the  gun  on  them.  They  wilt  running  and  dot  the  white  road 
and  become  motionless.  Then  he  swings  the  gun  back  to  the 
gun  across  the  street.  It  ceases. 

He  gives  another  order.  The  remaining  men,  except  the 
man  with  the  bandage,  run  down  the  stairs.  Half  of  them 
3top  at  the  gun  beneath  the  window  and  drag  it  around.  The 
others  dash  on  across  the  street,  toward  the  second  gun. 
They  are  halfway  across  when  the  other  gun  rattles.  The 
running  men  plunge  as  one  in  midstep.  Their  kilts  whip  for- 
ward and  bare  their  pale  thighs.  The  gun  rakes  across  the 
doorway  where  the  others  are  freeing  the  first  gun  of  bodies. 
As  the  captain  sweeps  his  gun  down  again,  dust  puffs  from 
the  left  side  of  the  window,  his  gun  rings  metallically,  some- 
thing sears  along  his  arm  and  across  his  ribs,  dust  puffs  from 
the  right  side  of  the  window.  He  rakes  the  other  gun  again. 
It  ceases.  He  continues  to  fire  into  the  huddled  clump  about 
it  long  after  the  gun  has  ceased. 

The  dark  earth  bites  into  the  sun's  rim.  The  street  is  now 
all  in  shadow;  a  final  level  ray  comes  into  the  room,  and  fades. 
Behind  him  in  the  twilight  the  wounded  man  laughs,  then 
his  laughter  sinks  into  a  quiet  contented  gibberish. 

Just  before  dark  another  column  crosses  the  bridge.  There 


452  The  Wasteland 

is  still  enough  light  for  it  to  be  seen  that  these  troops  wear 
khaki  and  that  their  helmets  are  flat.  But  likely  there  is  no 
one  to  see,  because  when  a  par^y  mounted  to  the  second 
story  and  found  the  captain  propped  in  the  window  beside 
the  cold  gun,  they  thought  that  he  was  dead. 

This  time  Matthew  Gray  saw  the  citation.  Someone 
clipped  it  from  the  Gazette  and  sent  it  to  him,  and  he  sent  it 
in  turn  to  his  son  in  the  hospital,  with  a  letter: 

.  .  .  Since  you  must  go  to  a  'war  we  are  glad  that  you  are 
doing  well  in  it.  Your  mother  thinks  that  you  have  done  your 
part  and  that  you  should  come  home.  But  women  do  not 
understand  such  things.  But  I  myself  think  that  it  is  time 
they  stopped  fighting.  What  is  the  good  in  the  high  wages 
when  food  is  so  high  that  there  is  profit  -for  none  save  the 
profiteers.  When  a  war  gets  to  where  the  battles  do  not  even 
prosper  the  people  who  win  them,  it  is  time  to  stop. 


V 

IN  THE  BED  NEXT  HIS,  and  later  in  the  chair  next  his  on  the 
long  glassed  veranda,  there  was  a  subaltern.  They  used  to 
talk.  Or  rather,  the  subaltern  talked  while  Gray  listened.  He 
talked  of  peace,  of  what  he  would  do  when  it  was  over,  talk- 
ing  as  if  it  were  about  finished,  as  if  it  would  not  last  past 
Christmas. 

"We'll  be  back  out  there  by  Christmas,"  Gray  said. 

"Gas  cases?  They  don't  send  gas  cases  out  again.  They 
have  to  be  cured." 

"We  will  be  cured." 

"But  not  in  time.  It  will  be  over  by  Christmas.  It  can't 
last  another  year.  You  don't  believe  me,  do  you?  Sometimes 
I  believe  you  want  to  go  back.  But  it  will  be.  It  will  be  fin- 
ished by  Christmas,  and  then  I'm  off,  Canada.  Nothing  at 


Victory  453 

home  for  us  now."  He  looked  at  the  other,  at  the  gaunt, 
wasted  figure  with  almost  white  hair,  lying  with  closed  eyes 
in  the  fall  sunlight.  "You'd  better  come  with  me." 

"I'll  meet  you  in  Givenchy  on  Christmas  Day,"  Gray  said. 

But  he  didn't.  He  was  in  the  hospital  on  the  eleventh  of 
November,  hearing  the  bells,  and  he  was  still  there  on  Christ- 
mas Day,  where  he  received  a  letter  from  home: 

You  can  come  on  home  now.  It  'will  not  be  too  soon  now. 
They  will  need  ships  worse  than  ever  now,  now  that  the 
pride  and  the  vainglory  have  worn  themselves  out. 

The  medical  officer  greeted  him  cheerfully.  "Dammit, 
stuck  here,  when  I  know  a  place  in  Devon  where  I  could 
hear  a  nightingale,  by  jove."  He  thumped  Gray's  chest.  "Not 
much:  just  a  bit  of  a  murmur.  Give  you  no  trouble,  if  you'll 
stop  away  from  wars  from  now  on.  Might  keep  you  from 
getting  in  again,  though."  He  waited  for  Gray  to  laugh,  but 
Gray  didn't  laugh.  "Well,  it's  all  finished  now,  damn  them. 
Sign  here,  will  you."  Gray  signed.  "Forget  it  as  quickly  as 
it  began,  I  hope.  Well — "  He  extended  his  hand,  smiling  his 
antiseptic  smile.  "Cheer-O,  Captain.  And  good  luck." 

Matthew  Gray,  descending  the  hill  at  seven  oclock  in  the 
morning,  saw  the  man,  the  tall,  hospital-colored  man  in  city 
clothing  and  carrying  a  stick,  and  stopped. 

"Alec?"  he  said.  "Alec."  They  shook  hands.  "I  could  not— 
I  did  not  .  .  ."  He  looked  at  his  son,  at  the  white  hair,  the 
waxed  moustaches.  "You  have  two  ribbons  now  for  the  box, 
you  have  written."  Then  Matthew  turned  back  up  the  hill  at 
seven  oclock  in  the  morning.  "We'll  go  to  your  mother." 

Then  Alec  Gray  reverted  for  an  instant.  Perhaps  he  had 
not  progressed  as  far  as  he  thought,  or  perhaps  he  had  been 
climbing  a  hill,  and  the  return  was  not  a  reversion  so  much 


454  The  Wasteland 

as  something  like  an  avalanche  waiting  the  pebble,  momen- 
tary though  it  was  to  be.  "The  shipyard,  Father." 

His  father  strode  firmly  on,  carrying  his  lunchpail.  "  'Twill 
wait,"  he  said.  "We'll  go  to  your  mother." 

His  mother  met  him  at  the  door.  Behind  her  he  saw  young 
Matthew,  a  man  now,  and  John  Wesley,  and  Elizabeth  whom 
he  had  never  seen.  "You  did  not  wear  your  uniform  home," 
young  Matthew  said. 

"No/  he  said.  "No,  I—" 

"Your  mother  had  wanted  to  see  you  in  your  regimentals 
and  all,"  his  father  said. 

"No,"  his  mother  said.  "No!  Never!  Never!" 

"Hush,  Annie/ '  his  father  said.  "Being  a  captain  now,  with 
two  ribbons  now  for  the  box.  This  is  false  modesty.  Ye  hae 
shown  course;  ye  should  have —  But  'tis  of  no  moment:  the 
proper  unifor  -  for  a  Gray  is  an  overall  and  a  hammer." 

"Ay,  sir,"  Alec  said,  who  had  long  since  found  out  that 
no  man  has  courage  but  that  any  man  may  blunder  blindly 
into  valor  as  one  stumbles  into  an  open  manhole  in  the  street. 

He  did  not  tell  his  father  until  that  night,  after  his  mother 
and  the  children  had  gone  to  bed.  "I  am  going  back  to  Eng- 
land. I  have  work  promised  there." 

"Ah,"  his  father  said.  "At  Bristol,  perhaps?  They  build 
ships  there." 

The  lamp  glowed,  touching  with  faint  gleams  the  black 
and  polished  surface  of  the  box  on  the  mantel-shelf.  There 
was  a  wind  getting  up,  hollowing  out  the  sky  like  a  dark 
bowl,  carving  house  and  hill  and  headland  out  of  dark  space. 
"  'Twill  be  blowing  out  yon  the  night,"  his  father  said. 

"There  are  other  things,"  Alec  said.  "I  have  made  friends, 
you  see." 

His  father  removed  the  iron-rimmed  spectacles.  "You  have 
made  friends.  Officers  and  such,  I  doubt  not?" 


Victory  455 

"Yes,  sir." 

"And  friends  are  good  to  have,  to  sit  about  the  hearth  of 
nights  and  talk  with.  But  beyond  that,  only  them  that  love 
you  will  bear  your  faults.  You  must  love  a  man  well  to  put 
up  with  all  his  trying  ways,  Alec." 

"But  they  are  not  that  sort  of  friends,  sir.  They  are  .  .  ." 
He  ceased.  He  did  not  look  at  his  father.  Matthew  sat,  slowly 
polishing  the  spectacles  with  his  thumb.  They  could  hear  the 
wind.  "If  this  fails,  I'll  come  back  to  the  shipyard." 

His  father  watched  him  gravely,  polishing  the  spectacles 
slowly.  "Ship wrights  are  not  made  like  that,  Alec.  To  fear 
God,  to  do  your  work  like  it  was  your  own  hull  you  were 
putting  the  ribs  in  . . ."  He  moved.  "We'll  see  what  the  Book 
will  say."  He  replaced  the  glasses.  On  the  table  was  a  heavy, 
brass-bound  Bible.  He  opened  it;  the  words  seemed  to  him 
to  rise  to  meet  him  from  the  page.  Yet  he  read  them,  aloud: 
".  .  .  and  the  captains  of  thousands  and  the  captains  of  ten 
thousands  ...  A  paragraph  of  pride.  He  faced  his  son,  bowing 
his  neck  to  see  across  the  glasses.  "You  will  go  to  London, 
then?" 

"Yes,  sir,"  Alec  said. 


VI 

His  POSITION  WAS  WAITING.  It  was  in  an  office.  He  had  already 
had  cards  made:  Captain  A.  Gray,  M.C.,  D.S.M.,  and  on 
his  return  to  London  he  joined  the  Officers'  Association, 
donating  to  the  support  of  the  widows  and  orphans. 

He  had  rooms  in  the  proper  quarter,  and  he  would  walk 
to  and  from  the  office,  with  his  cards  and  his  waxed  mous- 
taches, his  sober  correct  clothes  and  his  stick  carried  in  a 
manner  inimitable,  at  once  jaunty  and  unobtrusive,  giving 
his  coppers  to  blind  and  maimed  in  Piccadilly,  asking  of  them 
the  names  of  their  regiments.  Once  a  month  he  wrote  home: 


456  The  Wasteland 

I  am  'well.  Love  to  Jessie  and  Matthew  and  John  Wesley  and 
Elizabeth. 

During  that  first  year  Jessie  was  married.  He  sent  her  a 
gift  of  plate,  stinting  himself  a  little  to  do  so,  drawings  from 
his  savings.  He  was  saving,  not  against  old  age;  he  believed 
too  firmly  in  the  Empire  to  do  that,  who  had  surrendered 
completely  to  the  Empire  like  a  woman,  a  bride.  He  was 
saving  against  the  time  when  he  would  recross  the  Channel 
among  the  dead  scenes  of  his  lost  and  found  life. 

That  was  three  years  later.  He  was  already  planning  to 
ask  for  leave,  when  one  day  the  manager  broached  the  sub- 
ject himself.  With  one  correct  bag  he  went  to  France.  But 
he  did  not  bear  eastward  at  once.  He  went  to  the  Riviera; 
for  a  week  he  lived  like  a  gentleman,  spending  his  money 
like  a  gentleman,  lonely,  alone  in  that  bright  aviary  of  the 
svelte  kept  women  of  all  Europe. 

That  was  why  those  who  saw  him  descend  from  the  Medi- 
terranean Express  that  morning  in  Paris  said,  "Here  is  a 
rich  milord,"  and  why  they  continued  to  say  it  in  the  hard- 
benched  third-class  trains,  as  he  sat  leaning  forward  on  his 
stick,  lip-moving  the  names  on  sheet-iron  stations  about  the 
battered  and  waking  land  lying  now  three  years  quiet  be- 
neath the  senseless  and  unbroken  battalions  of  days. 

He  reached  London  and  found  what  he  should  have  known 
before  he  left.  His  position  was  gone.  Conditions,  the  man- 
ager told  him,  addressing  him  punctiliously  by  his  rank. 

What  savings  he  had  left  melted  slowly;  he  spent  the  last 
of  them  on  a  black  silk  dress  for  his  mother,  with  the  letter: 

/  ant  'well.  Love  to  Matthew  and  John  Wesley  and  Elizabeth. 

He  called  upon  his  friends,  upon  the  officers  whom  he  had 
known.  One,  the  man  he  knew  best,  gave  him  whisky  in  a 
comfortable  room  with  a  fire:  "You  aren't  working  now? 


Victory  457 

Rotten  luck.  By  the  way,  you  remember  Whiteby?  He  had 
a  company  in  the  — th.  Nice  chap:  no  people,  though.  He 
killed  himself  last  week.  Conditions." 

"Oh.  Did  he?  Yes.  I  remember  him.  Rotten  luck." 

"Yes.  Rotten  luck.  Nice  chap." 

He  no  longer  gave  his  pennies  to  the  blind  and  the  maimed 
in  Piccadilly.  He  needed  them  for  papers: 

Artisans  needed 

Become  stonemason 

Men  to  drive  ?no  tor  cars.  War  record  not  necessary 

Shop-assistants  (must  be  under  twenty -one) 

Shipwrights  needed 

and  at  last: 

Gentleman  ivith  social  address  and  connections  to  meet  out- 
of-toivn  clients.  Temporary 

He  got  the  place,  and  with  his  waxed  moustaches  and  his 
correct  clothes  he  revealed  the  fleshpots  of  the  West  End 
to  Birmingham  and  Leeds.  It  was  temporary. 

Artisans 
Carpenters 
House  pain  ters 

Winter  was  temporary,  too.  In  the  spring  he  took  his 
waxed  moustaches  and  his  ironed  clothes  into  Surrey,  with 
a  set  of  books,  an  encyclopedia,  on  commission.  He  sold  all 
his  things  save  what  he  stood  in,  and  gave  up  his  rooms  in 
town. 

He  still  had  his  stick,  his  waxed  moustaches,  his  cards. 
Surrey,  gentle,  green,  mild.  A  tight  little  house  in  a  tight 
little  garden.  An  oldish  man  in  a  smoking  jacket  puttering 
in  a  flower  bed:  "Good  day,  sir.  Might  I — " 

The  man  in  the  smoking  jacket  looks  up.  "Go  to  the  side, 
can't  you?  Don't  come  this  way." 


458  The  Wasteland 

He  goes  to  the  side  entrance.  A  slatted  gate,  freshly  white, 
bearing  an  enameled  plate: 

^Tx^  HAWKERS 
NO 

BEGGARS 

He  passes  through  and  knocks  at  a  tidy  door  smug  beneath 
a  vine.  "Good  day,  miss.  May  I  see  the — " 

"Go  away.  Didn't  you  see  the  sign  on  the  gate?" 

"But  I—" 

"Go  away,  or  I'll  call  the  master." 

In  the  fall  he  returned  to  London.  Perhaps  he  could  not 
have  said  why  himself.  Perhaps  it  was  beyond  any  saying, 
instinct  perhaps  bringing  him  back  to  be  present  at  the  in- 
stant out  of  all  time  of  the  manifestation,  apotheosis,  of  his 
life  which  had  died  again.  Anyway,  he  was  there,  still  with 
his  waxed  moustaches,  erect,  his  stick  clasped  beneath  his 
left  armpit,  among  the  Household  troops  in  brass  cuirasses, 
on  dappled  geldings,  and  Guards  in  scarlet  tunics,  and  the 
Church  militant  in  stole  and  surplice  and  Prince  defenders 
of  God  in  humble  mufti,  all  at  attention  for  two  minutes, 
listening  to  despair.  He  still  had  thirty  shillings,  and  he  re- 
plenished his  cards:  Captain  A.  Gray,  M.C.,  D.S.M. 

It  is  one  of  those  spurious,  pale  days  like  a  sickly  and 
premature  child  of  spring  while  spring  itself  is  still  weeks 
away.  In  the  thin  sunlight  buildings  fade  upward  into  misty 
pinks  and  golds.  Women  wear  violets  pinned  to  their  furs, 
appearing  to  bloom  themselves  like  flowers  in  the  languorous, 
treacherous  air. 

It  is  the  women  who  look  twice  at  the  man  standing  against 
the  wall  at  a  corner:  a  gaunt  man  with  white  hair,  and 
moustaches  twisted  into  frayed  points,  with  a  bleached  and 
frayed  regimental  scarf  in  a  celluloid  collar,  a  once-good 
suit  now  threadbare  yet  apparently  pressed  within  twenty- 


Victory  459 

four  hours,  standing  against  the  wall  with  closed  eyes,  a 
dilapidated  hat  held  bottom-up  before  him. 

He  stood  there  for  a  long  time,  until  someone  touched  his 
arm.  It  was  a  constable.  "Move  along,  sir.  Against  orders." 
In  his  hat  were  seven  pennies  and  three  halfpence.  He 
bought  a  cake  of  soap  and  a  little  food. 

Another  anniversary  came  and  passed;  he  stood  again,  his 
stick  at  his  armpit,  among  the  bright,  silent  uniforms,  the 
quiet  throng  in  either  frank  or  stubborn  cast-offs,  with 
patient,  bewildered  faces.  In  his  eyes  now  is  not  that  hopeful 
resignation  of  a  beggar,  but  rather  that  bitterness,  that  echo 
as  of  bitter  and  unheard  laugher  of  a  hunchback. 

A  meager  fire  burns  on  the  sloping  cobbles.  In  the  fitful 
light  the  damp,  fungus-grown  wall  of  the  embankment  and 
the  stone  arch  of  the  bridge  loom.  At  the  foot  of  the  cobbled 
slope  the  invisible  river  clucks  and  gurgles  with  the  tide. 

Five  figures  lie  about  the  fire,  some  with  heads  covered 
as  though  in  slumber,  others  smoking  and  talking.  One  man 
sits  upright,  his  back  to  the  wall,  his  hands  lying  beside  him; 
he  is  blind:  he  sleeps  that  way.  He  says  that  he  is  afraid  to 
lie  down. 

"Cant  you  tell  you  are  lying  down,  without  seeing  you 
are?"  another  says. 

"Something  might  happen,"  the  blind  man  says. 

"What?  Do  you  think  they  would  give  you  a  shell,  even 
if  it  would  bring  back  your  sight?" 

"They'd  give  him  the  shell,  all  right,"  a  third  said. 

"Ow.  Why  dont  they  line  us  all  up  and  put  down  a  bloody 
barrage  on  us?" 

"Was  that  how  he  lost  his  sight?"  a  fourth  says.  "A  shell?" 

"Ow.  He  was  at  Mons.  A  dispatch  rider,  on  a  motorbike. 
Tell  them  about  it,  mate." 

The  blind  man  lifts  his  face  a  little.  Otherwise  he  does  not 


460  The  Wasteland 

move.  He  speaks  in  a  flat  voice.  "She  had  the  bit  of  scar  on 
her  wrist.  That  was  how  I  could  tell.  It  was  me  put  the  scar 
on  her  wrist,  you  might  say.  We  was  working  in  the  shop 
one  day.  I  had  picked  up  an  old  engine  and  we  was  fitting  it 
onto  a  bike  so  we  could — " 

"What?"  the  fourth  says.  "What's  he  talking  about?" 

"Shhhh,"  the  first  says.  "Not  so  loud.  He's  talking  about 
his  girl.  He  had  a  bit  of  a  bike  shop  on  the  Brighton  Road 
and  they  were  going  to  marry."  He  speaks  in  a  low  tone,  his 
voice  just  under  the  weary,  monotonous  voice  of  the  blind 
man.  "Had  their  picture  taken  and  all  the  day  he  enlisted 
and  got  his  uniform.  He  had  it  with  hii  for  a  while,  until  one 
day  he  lost  it.  He  was  fair  wild.  So  at  last  we  got  a  bit  of  a 
card  about  the  same  size  of  the  picture.  'Here's  your  picture, 
mate/  we  says.  'Hold  onto  it  this  time.'  So  he's  still  got  the 
card.  Likely  he'll  show  it  to  you  before  he's  done.  So  dont 
you  let  on." 

"No,"  the  other  says.  "I  shant  let  on." 

The  blind  man  talks.  " — got  them  at  the  hospital  to  write 
her  a  letter,  and  sure  enough,  here  she  come.  I  could  tell  her 
by  the  bit  of  scar  on  her  wrist.  Her  voice  sounded  different, 
but  then  everything  sounded  different  since.  But  I  could  tell 
by  the  scar.  We  would  sit  and  hold  hands,  and  I  could  touch 
the  bit  of  scar  inside  her  left  wrist.  In  the  cinema  too.  I 
would  touch  the  scar  and  it  would  be  like  I — " 

"The  cinema?"  the  fourth  says.  "Him?" 

"Yes,"  the  other  says.  "She  would  take  him  to  the  cinema, 
the  comedies,  so  he  could  hear  them  laughing." 

The  blind  man  talks.  " — told  me  how  the  pictures  hurt 
her  eyes,  and  that  she  would  leave  me  at  the  cinema  and 
when  it  was  over  she  would  come  and  fetch  me.  So  I  said  it 
was  all  right.  And  the  next  night  it  was  again.  And  I  said  it 
was  all  right.  And  the  next  night  I  told  her  I  wouldn't  go 
either.  I  said  we  would  stop  at  home,  at  the  hospital.  And 


Victory  461 

then  she  didn't  say  anything  for  a  long  while.  I  could  hear 
her  breathing.  Then  she  said  it  was  all  right.  So  after  that  we 
didn't  go  to  the  cinema.  We  would  just  sit,  holding  hands, 
and  me  feeling  the  scar  now  and  then.  We  couldn't  talk  loud 
in  the  hospital,  so  we  would  whisper.  But  mostly  we  didn't 
talk.  We  just  held  hands.  And  that  was  for  eight  nights.  I 
counted.  Then  it  was  the  eighth  night.  We  were  sitting 
there,  with  the  other  hand  in  my  hand,  and  me  touching  the 
scar  now  and  then.  Then  on  a  sudden  the  hand  jerked  away. 
I  could  hear  her  standing  up.  'Listen,'  she  says.  'This  cant  go 
on  any  longer.  You  will  have  to  know  sometime,'  she  says. 
And  I  says,  'I  dont  want  to  know  but  one  thing.  What  is 
your  name?'  I  says.  She  told  me  her  name;  one  of  the  nurses. 
And  she  says — " 

"What?"  the  fourth  says.  "What  is  this?" 

"He  told  you,"  the  first  said.  "It  was  one  of  the  nurses  in 
the  hospital.  The  girl  had  been  buggering  off  with  another 
fellow  and  left  the  nurse  for  him  to  hold  her  hand,  thinking 
he  was  fooled." 

"But  how  did  he  know?"  the  fourth  says. 

"Listen,"  the  first  says. 

" — 'and  you  knew  all  the  time/  she  says,  'since  the  first 
time?'  'It  was  the  scar,'  I  says.  'You've  got  it  on  the  wrong 
wrist.  You've  got  it  on  your  right  wrist,'  I  says.  'And  two 
nights  ago,  I  lifted  up  the  edge  of  it  a  bit.  What  is  it,'  I  says. 
'Courtplaster? '  "  The  blind  man  sits  against  the  wall,  his  face 
lifted  a  little,  his  hands  motionless  beside  him.  "That's  how 
I  knew,  by  the  scar.  Thinking  they  could  fool  me,  when  it 
was  me  put  the  scar  on  her,  you  might  say — " 

The  prone  figure  farthest  from  the  fire  lifts  its  head. 
"Hup,"  he  says;  "ere  e  comes." 

The  others  turn  as  one  and  look  toward  the  entrance. 

"Here  who  comes?"  the  blind  man  says.  "Is  it  the  bob- 
bies?" 


462  The  Wasteland 

They  do  not  answer.  They  watch  the  man  who  enters: 
a  tall  man  with  a  stick.  They  cease  to  talk,  save  the  blind 
man,  watching  the  tall  man  come  among  them.  "Here  who 
comes,  mates?"  the  blind  man  says.  "Mates!" 

The  newcomer  passes  them,  and  the  fire;  he  does  not  look 
at  them.  He  goes  on.  "Watch,  now,"  the  second  says.  The 
blind  man  is  now  leaning  a  little  forward;  his  hands  fumble 
at  the  ground  beside  him  as  though  he  were  preparing  to 
rise. 

"Watch  who?"  he  says.  "What  do  you  see?" 

They  do  not  answer.  They  are  watching  the  newcomer 
covertly,  attentively,  as  he  disrobes  and  then,  a  white 
shadow,  a  ghostly  gleam  in  the  darkness,  goes  down  to  the 
water  and  washes  himself,  slapping  his  body  hard  with  icy 
and  filthy  handfuls  of  river  water.  He  returns  to  the  fire; 
they  turn  their  faces  quickly  aside,  save  the  blind  man  (he 
still  sits  forward,  his  arms  propped  beside  him  as  though  on 
the  point  of  rising,  his  wan  face  turned  toward  the  sound, 
the  movement)  and  one  other.  "Yer  stones  is  ot,  sir,"  this 
one  says.  "I've  ad  them  right  in  the  blaze." 

"Thanks,"  the  newcomer  says.  He  still  appears  to  be 
utterly  oblivious  of  them,  so  they  watch  him  again,  quietly, 
as  he  spreads  his  sorry  garments  on  one  stone  and  takes  a 
second  stone  from  the  fire  and  irons  them.  While  he  is 
dressing,  the  man  who  spoke  to  him  goes  down  to  the  water 
and  returns  with  the  cake  of  soap  which  he  had  used.  Still 
watching,  they  see  the  newcomer  rub  his  fingers  on  the  cake 
of  soap  and  twist  his  moustaches  into  points. 

"A  bit  more  on  the  left  one,  sir,"  the  man  holding  the 
soap  says.  The  newcomer  soaps  his  fingers  and  twists  his  left 
moustache  again,  the  other  man  watching  him,  his  head  bent 
and  tilted  a  little  back,  in  shape  and  attitude  and  dress  like 
a  caricatured  scarecrow. 

"Right,  now?"  the  newcomer  says. 


Victory  463 

"Right,  sir,"  the  scarecrow  says.  He  retreats  into  the  dark- 
ness and  returns  without  the  cake  of  soap,  and  carrying  in- 
stead the  hat  and  the  stick.  The  newcomer  takes  them.  From 
his  pocket  he  takes  a  coin  and  puts  it  into  the  scarecrow's 
hand.  The  scarecrow  touches  his  cap;  the  newcomer  is  gone. 
They  watch  him,  the  tall  shape,  the  erect  back,  the  stick, 
until  he  disappears. 

"What  do  you  see,  mates?"  the  blind  man  says.  "Tell  a 
man  what  you  see." 

VII 

AMONG  THE  DEMOBILIZED  officers  who  emigrated  from  Eng- 
land after  the  Armistice  was  a  subaltern  named  Walkley.  He 
went  out  to  Canada,  where  he  raised  wheat  and  prospered, 
both  in  pocket  and  in  health.  So  much  so  that,  had  he  been 
walking  out  of  the  Gare  de  Lyon  in  Paris  instead  of  in  Pic- 
cadilly Circus  on  this  first  evening  (it  is  Christmas  eve)  of 
his  first  visit  home,  they  would  have  said,  "Here  is  not  only 
a  rich  milord;  it  is  a  well  one." 

He  had  been  in  London  just  long  enough  to  outfit  himself 
with  the  beginning  of  a  wardrobe,  and  in  his  new  clothes 
(bought  of  a  tailor  which  in  the  old  days  he  could  not  have 
afforded)  he  was  enjoying  himself  too  much  to  even  go 
anywhere.  So  he  just  walked  the  streets,  among  the  cheerful 
throngs,  until  suddenly  he  stopped  dead  still,  staring  at  a  face. 
The  man  had  almost  white  hair,  moustaches  waxed  to  needle 
points.  He  wore  a  frayed  scarf  in  which  could  be  barely 
distinguished  the  colors  and  pattern  of  a  regiment.  His 
threadbare  clothes  were  freshly  ironed  and  he  carried  a  stick. 
He  was  standing  at  the  curb,  and  he  appeared  to  be  saying 
something  to  the  people  who  passed,  and  Walkley  moved 
suddenly  forward,  his  hand  extended.  But  the  other  man  only 
stared  at  him  with  eyes  that  were  perfectly  dead. 


464  The  Wasteland 

"Gray,"  Walkley  said,  "don't  you  remember  me?"  The 
Other  stared  at  him  with  that  dead  intensity.  "We  were  in 
hospital  together.  I  went  out  to  Canada.  Don't  you  remem- 
ber?" 

"Yes,"  the  other  said.  "I  remember  you.  You  are  Walk- 
ley."  Then  he  quit  looking  at  Walkley.  He  moved  a  little 
aside,  turning  to  the  crowd  again,  his  hand  extended;  it  was 
only  then  that  Walkley  saw  that  the  hand  contained  three  or 
four  boxes  of  the  matches  which  may  be  bought  from  any 
tobacconist  for  a  penny  a  box.  "Matches?  Matches,  sir?"  he 
said.  "Matches?  Matches?" 

Walkley  moved  also,  getting  again  in  front  of  the  other. 
"Gray—"  he  said. 

The  other  looked  at  Walkley  again,  this  time  with  a  kind 
of  restrained  yet  raging  impatience.  "Let  me  alone,  you  son 
of  a  bitch!"  he  said,  turning  immediately  toward  the  crowd 
again,  his  hand  extended.  "Matches!  Matches,  sir!"  he 
chanted. 

Walkley  moved  on.  He  paused  again,  half  turning,  looking 
back  at  the  gaunt  face  above  the  waxed  moustaches.  Again 
the  other  looked  him  full  in  the  face,  but  the  glance  passed 
on,  as  though  without  recognition.  Walkley  went  on.  He 
walked  swiftly.  "My  God,"  he  said.  "I  think  I  am  going 
to  vomit." 


Crevasse 


THE  PARTY  GOES  ON,  skirting  the  edge  of  the  barrage  weaving 
down  into  shell  craters  old  and  new,  crawling  out  again. 
Two  men  half  drag,  half  carry  between  them  a  third,  while 
two  others  carry  the  three  rifles.  The  third  man's  head  is 
bound  in  a  bloody  rag;  he  stumbles  his  aimless  legs  along, 
his  head  lolling,  sweat  channeling  slowly  down  his  mud- 
crusted  face. 

The  barrage  stretches  on  and  on  across  the  plain,  distant, 
impenetrable.  Occasionally  a  small  wind  comes  up  from 
nowhere  and  thins  the  dun  smoke  momentarily  upon  clumps 
of  bitten  poplars.  The  party  enters  and  crosses  a  field  which 
a  month  ago  was  sown  to  wheat  and  where  yet  wheatspears 
thrust  and  cling  stubbornly  in  the  churned  soil,  among  scraps 
of  metal  and  seething  hunks  of  cloth. 

It  crosses  the  field  and  comes  to  a  canal  bordered  with  tree 
stumps  sheared  roughly  at  a  symmetrical  five-foot  level.  The 
men  flop  and  drink  of  the  contaminated  water  and  fill  their 
water  bottles.  The  two  bearers  let  the  wounded  man  slip 
to  earth;  he  hangs  lax  on  the  canal  bank  with  both  arms  in 
the  water  and  his  head  too,  had  not  the  others  held  him  up. 
One  of  them  raises  water  in  his  helmet,  but  the  wounded 
man  cannot  swallow.  So  they  set  him  upright  and  the  other 
holds  the  helmet  brim  to  his  lips  and  refills  the  helmet  and 
pours  the  water  on  the  wounded  man's  head,  sopping  the 

465 


466  The  Wasteland 

bandage.  Then  he  takes  a  filthy  rag  from  his  pocket  and 
dries  the  wounded  man's  face  with  clumsy  gentleness. 

The  captain,  the  subaltern  and  the  sergeant,  still  standing, 
are  poring  over  a  soiled  map.  Beyond  the  canal  the  ground 
rises  gradually;  the  canal  cutting  reveals  the  chalk  formation 
of  the  land  in  pallid  strata.  The  captain  puts  the  map  away 
and  the  sergeant  speaks  the  men  to  their  feet,  not  loud.  The 
two  bearers  raise  the  wounded  man  and  they  follow  the 
canal  bank,  coming  after  a  while  to  a  bridge  formed  by  a 
water-logged  barge  hull  lashed  bow  and  stern  to  either  bank, 
and  so  pass  over.  Here  they  halt  again  while  once  more  the 
captain  and  the  subaltern  consult  the  map. 

Gunfire  comes  across  the  pale  spring  noon  like  a  prolonged 
clashing  of  hail  on  an  endless  metal  roof.  As  they  go  on  the 
chalky  soil  rises  gradually  underfoot.  The  ground  is  dryly 
rough,  shaling,  and  the  going  is  harder  still  for  the  two  who 
carry  the  wounded  man.  But  when  they  would  stop  the 
wounded  man  struggles  and  wrenches  free  and  staggers  on 
alone,  his  hands  at  his  head,  and  stumbles,  falling.  The  bearers 
catch  and  raise  him  and  hold  him  muttering  between  them 
and  wrenching  his  arms.  He  is  muttering  ".  .  .  bonnet  .  .  ." 
and  he  frees  his  hands  and  tugs  again  at  his  bandage.  The 
commotion  passes  forward.  The  captain  looks  back  and 
stops;  the  party  halts  also,  unbidden,  and  lowers  rifles. 

"A's  pickin  at's  bandage,  sir-r,"  one  of  the  bearers  tells 
the  captain.  They  let  the  man  sit  down  between  them;  the 
captain  kneels  beside  him. 

".  .  .  bonnet  .  .  .  bonnet,"  the  man  mutters.  The  captain 
loosens  the  bandage.  The  sergeant  extends  a  water  bottle 
and  the  captain  wets  the  bandage  and  lays  his  hand  on  the 
man's  brow.  The  others  stand  about,  looking  on  with  a  kind 
of  sober,  detached  interest.  The  captain  rises.  The  bearers 
raise  the  wounded  man  again.  The  sergeant  speaks  them  into 
motion. 


Crevasse  467 

They  gain  the  crest  of  the  ridge.  The  ridge  slopes  west- 
ward into  a  plateau  slightly  rolling.  Southward,  beneath  its 
dun  pall,  the  barrage  still  rages;  westward  and  northward 
about  the  shining  empty  plain  smoke  rises  lazily  here  and 
there  above  clumps  of  trees.  But  this  is  the  smoke  of  burn- 
ing things,  burning  wood  and  not  powder,  and  the  two 
officers  gaze  from  beneath  their  hands,  the  men  halting  again 
without  order  and  lowering  arms. 

"Gad,  sir,"  the  subaltern  says  suddenly  in  a  high,  thin 
voice;  "it's  houses  burning!  They're  retreating!  Beasts! 
Beasts!" 

"  'Tis  possible,"  the  captain  says,  gazing  beneath  his  hand. 
"We  can  get  around  that  barrage  now.  Should  be  a  road 
just  yonder."  He  strides  on  again. 

"For-rard,"  the  sergeant  says,  in  that  tone  not  loud.  The 
men  slope  arms  once  more  with  unquestioning  docility. 

The  ridge  is  covered  with  a  tough,  gorselike  grass.  Insects 
buzz  in  it,  zip  from  beneath  their  feet  and  fall  to  slatting 
again  beneath  the  shimmering  noon.  The  wounded  man  is 
babbling  again.  At  intervals  they  pause  and  give  him  water 
and  wet  the  bandage  again,  then  two  others  exchange  with 
the  bearers  and  they  hurry  the  man  on  and  close  up  again. 

The  head  of  the  line  stops;  the  men  jolt  prodding  into  one 
another  like  a  train  of  freight  cars  stopping.  At  the  captain's 
feet  lies  a  broad  shallow  depression  in  which  grows  a  sparse* 
dead-looking  grass  like  clumps  of  bayonets  thrust  up  out 
of  the  earth.  It  is  too  big  to  have  been  made  by  a  small  shell, 
and  too  shallow  to  have  been  made  by  a  big  one.  It  bears  no 
traces  of  having  been  made  by  anything  at  all,  and  they  look 
quietly  down  into  it.  "Queer,"  the  subaltern  says.  "What 
do  you  fancy  could  have  made  it?" 

The  captain  does  not  answer.  He  turns.  They  circle  the 
depression,  looking  down  into  it  quietly  as  they  pass  it.  But 
they  have  no  more  than  passed  it  when  they  come  upon 


468  The  Wasteland 

another  one,  perhaps  not  quite  so  large.  "I  didn't  know  they 
had  anything  that  could  make  that/'  the  subaltern  says. 
Again  the  captain  does  not  answer.  They  circle  this  one  also 
and  keep  on  along  the  crest  of  the  ridge.  On  the  other  hand 
the  ridge  sheers  sharply  downward  stratum  by  stratum  of 
pallid  eroded  chalk. 

A  shallow  ravine  gashes  its  crumbling  yawn  abruptly 
across  their  path.  The  captain  changes  direction  again,  par- 
alleling the  ravine,  until  shortly  afterward  the  ravine  turns 
at  right  angles  and  goes  on  in  the  direction  of  their  march. 
The  floor  of  the  ravine  is  in  shadow;  the  captain  leads  the 
way  down  the  shelving  wall,  into  the  shade.  They  lower  the 
wounded  man  carefully  and  go  on. 

After  a  time  the  ravine  opens.  They  find  that  they  have 
debouched  into  another  of  those  shallow  depressions.  This 
one  is  not  so  clearly  defined,  though,  and  the  opposite  wall 
of  it  is  nicked  by  what  is  apparently  another  depression, 
like  two  overlapping  disks.  They  cross  the  first  depression, 
while  more  of  the  dead-looking  grass  bayonets  saber  their 
legs  dryly,  and  pass  through  the  gap  into  the  next  depression. 

This  one  is  like  a  miniature  valley  between  miniature 
cliffs.  Overhead  they  can  see  only  the  drowsy  and  empty 
bowl  of  the  sky,  with  a  few  faint  smoke  smudges  to  the 
northwest.  The  sound  of  the  barrage  is  now  remote  and  far 
away:  a  vibration  in  earth  felt  rather  than  heard.  There  are 
no  recent  shell  craters  or  marks  here  at  all.  It  is  as  though 
they  had  strayed  suddenly  into  a  region,  a  world  where  the 
war  had  not  reached,  where  nothing  had  reached,  where  no 
life  is,  and  silence  itself  is  dead.  They  give  the  wounded  man 
water  and  go  on. 

The  valley,  the  depression,  strays  vaguely  before  them. 
They  can  see  that  it  is  a  series  of  overlapping,  vaguely  cir- 
cular basins  formed  by  no  apparent  or  deducible  agency. 
Pallid  grass  bayonets  saber  at  their  legs,  and  after  a  time  they 


Crevass?  469 

are  again  among  old  healed  scars  of  trees  to  which  there 
cling  sparse  leaves  neither  green  nor  dead,  as  if  they  too  had 
been  overtaken  and  caught  by  a  hiatus  in  time,  gossiping 
dryly  among  themselves  though  there  is  no  wind.  The  floor 
of  the  valley  is  not  level.  It  in  itself  descends  into  vague 
depressions,  rises  again  as  vaguely  between  its  shelving  walls. 
In  the  center  of  these  smaller  depressions  whitish  knobs  of 
chalk  thrust  up  through  the  thin  topsoil.  The  ground  has  a 
resilient  quality,  like  walking  on  cork;  feet  make  no  sound. 
"Jolly  walking,"  the  subaltern  says.  Though  his  voice  is  not 
raised,  it  fills  the  small  valley  with  the  abruptness  of  a  thun- 
derclap, filling  the  silence,  the  words  seeming  to  hang  about 
them  as  though  silence  here  had  been  so  long  undisturbed 
that  it  had  forgot  its  purpose;  as  one  they  look  quietly  and 
soberly  about,  at  the  shelving  walls,  the  stubborn  ghosts  of 
trees,  the  bland,  hushed  sky.  "Topping  hole-up  for  embusque 
birds  and  such,"  the  subaltern  says. 

"Ay,"  the  captain  says.  His  word  in  turn  hangs  sluggishly 
and  fades.  The  men  at  the  rear  close  up,  the  movement  pass- 
*ng  forward,  the  men  looking  quietly  and  soberly  about. 

"But  no  birds  here,"  the  subaltern  says.  "No  insects  even." 

"Ay,"  the  captain  says.  The  word  fades,  the  silence  comes 
down  again,  sunny,  profoundly  still.  The  subaltern  pauses 
and  stirs  something  with  his  foot.  The  men  halt  also,  and 
the  subaltern  and  the  captain,  without  touching  it,  examine 
the  half-buried  and  moldering  rifle.  The  wounded  man  is 
babbling  again. 

"What  is  it,  sir?"  the  subaltern  says.  "Looks  like  one  of 
those  things  the  Canadians  had.  A  Ross.  Right?" 

"French,"  the  captain  says;  "1914." 

"Oh,"  the  subaltern  says.  He  turns  the  rifle  aside  with  his 
toe.  The  bayonet  is  still  attached  to  the  barrel,  but  the  stock 
has  long  since  rotted  away.  They  go  on,  across  the  uneven 
ground,  among  the  chalky  knobs  thrusting  up  through  the 


470  The  Wasteland 

soil.  Light,  the  wan  and  drowsy  sunlight,  is  laked  in  the 
valley,  stagnant,  bodiless,  without  heat.  The  saberlike  grass 
thrusts  sparsely  and  rigidly  upward.  They  look  about  again 
at  the  shaling  walls,  then  the  ones  at  the  head  of  the  party 
watch  the  subaltern  pause  and  prod  with  his  stick  at  one  of 
the  chalky  knobs  and  turn  presently  upward  its  earth-stained 
eyesockets  and  its  unbottomed  grin. 

"Forward,"  the  captain  says  sharply.  The  party  moves; 
the  men  look  quietly  and  curiously  at  the  skull  as  they  pass. 
They  go  on,  among  the  other  whitish  knobs  like  marbles 
studded  at  random  in  the  shallow  soil. 

"All  in  the  same  position,  do  you  notice,  sir?"  the  sub- 
altern says,  his  voice  chattily  cheerful;  "all  upright.  Queer 
way  to  bury  chaps:  sitting  down.  Shallow,  too." 

"Ay,"  the  captain  says.  The  wounded  man  babbles 
steadily.  The  two  bearers  stop  with  him,  but  the  others 
crowd  on  after  the  officers,  passing  the  two  bearers  and  the 
wounded  man.  "Dinna  stop  to  gi's  sup  water,"  one  of  the 
bearers  says.  "A'll  drink  walkin."  They  take  up  the  wounded 
man  again  and  hurry  him  on  while  one  of  them  tries  to  hold 
the  neck  of  a  water  bottle  to  the  wounded  man's  mouth, 
clattering  it  against  his  teeth  and  spilling  the  water  down  the 
front  of  his  tunic.  The  captain  looks  back. 

"What's  this?"  he  says  sharply.  The  men  crowd  up.  Their 
eyes  are  wide,  sober;  he  looks  about  at  the  quiet,  intent  faces. 
"What's  the  matter  back  there,  Sergeant?" 

"Wind-up,"  the  subaltern  says.  He  looks  about  at  the 
eroded  walls,  the  whitish  knobs  thrusting  quietly  out  of  the 
earth.  "Feel  it  myself,"  he  says.  He  laughs,  his  laughter  a 
little  thin,  ceasing.  "Let's  get  out  of  here,  sir,"  he  says.  "Let's 
get  into  the  sun  again." 

"You  are  in  the  sun  here,"  the  captain  says.  "Ease  off  there, 
men.  Stop  crowding.  We'll  be  out  soon.  We'll  find  the  road 
and  get  past  the  barrage  and  make -contact  again."  He  turns 
and  goes  on.  The  party  gets  into  motion  again. 


Crevasse  47 1 

Then  they  all  stop  as  one,  in  the  attitudes  of  walking,  in 
an  utter  suspension,  and  stare  at  one  another.  Again  the 
earth  moves  under  their  feet.  A  man  screams,  high,  like  a 
woman  or  a  horse;  as  the  firm  earth  shifts  for  a  third  time 
beneath  them  the  officers  whirl  and  see  beyond  the  down- 
plunging  man  a  gaping  hole  with  dry  dust  still  crumbling 
about  the  edges  before  the  orifice  crumbles  again  beneath 
a  second  man.  Then  a  crack  springs  like  a  sword  slash  be- 
neath them  all;  the  earth  breaks  under  their  feet  and  tilts 
like  jagged  squares  of  pale  fudge,  framing  a  black  yawn  out 
of  which,  like  a  silent  explosion,  bursts  the  unmistakable 
smell  of  rotted  flesh.  While  they  scramble  and  leap  (in 
silence  now;  there  has  been  no  sound  since  the  first  man 
screamed)  from  one  cake  to  another,  the  cakes  tilt  and  slide 
until  the  whole  floor  of  the  valley  rushes  slowly  under  them 
and  plunges  them  downward  into  darkness.  A  grave  rum- 
bling rises  into  the  sunlight  on  a  blast  of  decay  and  of  faint 
dust  which  hangs  and  drifts  in  the  faint  air  about  the  black 
orifice. 

The  captain  feels  himself  plunging  down  a  sheer  and 
shifting  wall  of  moving  earth,  of  sounds  of  terror  and  of 
struggling  in  the  ink  dark.  Someone  else  screams.  The 
scream  ceases;  he  hears  the  voice  of  the  wounded  man  com- 
ing thin  and  reiterant  out  of  the  plunging  bowels  of  decay: 
"A'm  no  dead!  A'm  no  dead!"  and  ceasing  abruptly,  as  if  a 
hand  had  been  laid  on  his  mouth. 

Then  the  moving  cliff  down  which  the  captain  plunges 
slopes  gradually  off  and  shoots  him,  uninjured,  onto  a  hard 
floor,  where  he  lies  for  a  time  on  his  back  while  across  his 
face  the  lightward-  and  airward-seeking  blast  of  death  and 
dissolution  rushes.  He  has  fetched  up  against  something;  it 
tumbles  down  upon  him  lightly,  with  a  muffled  clatter  as  if 
it  had  come  to  pieces. 

Then  he  begins  to  see  the  light,  the  jagged  shape  of  the 
cavern  mouth  high  overhead,  and  then  the  sergeant  is  bend- 


472  The  Wasteland 

ing  over  him  with  a  pocket  torch.  "McKie?"  the  captain 
says.  For  reply  the  sergeant  turns  the  flash  upon  his  own 
face.  "Where's  Mr.  McKie?"  the  captain  says. 

"A's  gone,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  says  in  a  husky  whisper. 
The  captain  sits  up. 

"How  many  are  left?" 

"Fourteen,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers. 

"Fourteen.  Twelve  missing.  We'll  have  to  dig  fast."  He 
gets  to  his  feet.  The  faint  light  from  above  falls  coldly  upon 
the  heaped  avalanche,  upon  the  thirteen  helmets  and  the 
white  bandage  of  the  wounded  man  huddled  about  the  foot 
of  the  cliff.  "Where  are  we?" 

For  answer  the  sergeant  moves  the  torch.  It  streaks  later- 
ally into  the  darkness,  along  a  wall,  a  tunnel,  into  yawning 
blackness,  the  walls  faceted  with  pale  glints  of  chalk.  About 
the  tunnel,  sitting  or  leaning  upright  against  the  walls,  are 
skeletons  in  dark  tunics  and  bagging  Zouave  trousers,  their 
moldering  arms  beside  them;  the  captain  recognizes  them  as 
Senegalese  troops  of  the  May  fighting  of  1915,  surprised 
and  killed  by  gas  probably  in  the  attitudes  in  which  they 
had  taken  refuge  in  the  chalk  caverns.  He  takes  the  torch 
from  the  sergeant. 

"We'll  see  if  there's  anyone  else,"  he  says.  "Have  out  the 
trenching  tools."  He  flashes  the  light  upon  the  precipice.  It 
rises  into  gloom,  darkness,  then  into  the  faint  rumor  of  day- 
light overhead.  With  the  sergeant  behind  him  he  climbs  the 
shifting  heap,  the  earth  sighing  beneath  him  and  shaling 
downward.  The  injured  man  begins  to  wail  again,  "A'm  no 
dead!  A'm  no  dead! "  until  his  voice  goes  into  a  high  sustained 
screaming.  Someone  lays  a  hand  over  his  mouth.  His  voice 
is  muffled,  then  it  becomes  laughter  on  a  rising  note,  becomes 
screaming  again,  is  choked  again. 

The  captain  and  the  sergeant  mount  as  high  as  they  dare, 
prodding  at  the  earth  while  the  earth  shifts  beneath  them  in 


Crevasse  473 

long  hushed  sighs.  At  the  foot  of  the  precipice  the  men 
huddle,  their  faces  lifted  faint,  white,  and  patient  into  the 
light.  The  captain  sweeps  the  torch  up  and  down  the  cliff. 
There  is  nothing,  no  arm,  no  hand,  in  sight.  The  air  is  clear- 
ing slowly.  "We'll  get  on/'  the  captain  says. 

"Ay,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  says. 

In  both  directions  the  cavern  fades  into  darkness,  plumb- 
less  and  profound,  filled  with  the  quiet  skeletons  sitting  and 
leaning  against  the  walls,  their  arms  beside  them. 

"The  cave-in  threw  us  forward,"  the  captain  says. 

"Ay,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers. 

"Speak  out,"  the  captain  says.  "It's  but  a  bit  of  a  cave.  If 
men  got  into  it,  we  can  get  out." 

"Ay,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers. 

"If  it  threw  us  forward,  the  entrance  will  be  yonder." 

"Ay,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers. 

The  captain  flashes  the  torch  ahead.  The  men  rise  and 
huddle  quietly  behind  him,  the  wounded  man  among  them. 
He  whimpers.  The  cavern  goes  on,  unrolling  its  glinted  walls 
out  of  the  darkness;  the  sitting  shapes  grin  quietly  into  the 
light  as  they  pass.  The  air  grows  heavier;  soon  they  are 
trotting,  gasping,  then  the  air  grows  lighter  and  the  torch 
sweeps  up  another  slope  of  earth,  closing  the  tunnel.  The 
men  halt  and  huddle.  The  captain  mounts  the  slope.  He  snaps 
off  the  light  and  crawls  slowly  along  the  crest  of  the  slide, 
where  it  joins  the  ceiling  of  the  cavern,  sniffing.  The  light 
flashes  on  again.  "Two  men  with  trenching  tools,"  he  says. 

Two  men  mount  to  him.  He  shows  them  the  fissure 
through  which  air  seeps  in  small,  steady  breaths.  They  begin 
to  dig,  furiously,  hurling  the  dirt  back.  Presently  they  are 
relieved  by  two  others;  presently  the  fissure  becomes  a  tunnel 
and  four  men  can  work  at  once.  The  air  becomes  fresher. 
They  burrow  furiously,  with  whimpering  cries  like  dogs. 
The  wounded  man,  hearing  them  perhaps,  catching  the 


474  The  Wasteland 

excitement  perhaps,  begins  to  laugh  again,  meaningless  and 
high.  Then  the  man  at  the  head  of  the  tunnel  bursts  through. 
Light  rushes  in  around  him  like  water;  he  burrows  madly; 
in  silhouette  they  see  his  wallowing  buttocks  lunge  from 
sight  and  a  burst  of  daylight  surges  in. 

The  others  leave  the  wounded  man  and  surge  up  the  slope, 
fighting  and  snarling  at  the  opening.  The  sergeant  springs 
after  them  and  beats  them  away  from  the  opening  with  a 
trenching  spade,  cursing  in  his  hoarse  whisper. 

"Let  them  go,  Sergeant,"  the  captain  says.  The  sergeant 
desists.  He  stands  aside  and  watches  the  men  scramble  into 
the  tunnel.  Then  he  descends,  and  he  and  the  captain  help 
the  wounded  man  up  the  slope.  At  the  mouth  of  the  tunnel 
the  wounded  man  rebels. 

"A'm  no  dead!  A'm  no  dead!"  he  wails,  struggling.  By 
cajolery  and  force  they  thrust  him,  still  wailing  and  strug- 
gling, into  the  tunnel,  where  he  becomes  docile  again  and 
scuttles  through. 

"Out  with  you,  Sergeant,"  the  captain  says. 

"After  you,  sir-r,"  the  sergeant  whispers. 

"Out  wi  ye,  man!"  the  captain  says.  The  sergeant  enters 
the  tunnel.  The  captain  follows.  He  emerges  onto  the  outer 
slope  of  the  avalanche  which  had  closed  the  cave,  at  the  foot 
of  which  the  fourteen  men  are  kneeling  in  a  group.  On  his 
hands  and  knees  like  a  beast,  the  captain  breathes,  his  breath 
making  a  hoarse  sound.  "Soon  it  will  be  summer,"  he  thinks, 
dragging  the  air  into  his  lungs  faster  than  he  can  empty  them 
to  respire  again.  "Soon  it  will  be  summer,  and  the  long 
days."  At  the  foot  of  the  slope  the  fourteen  men  kneel.  The 
one  in  the  center  has  a  Bible  in  his  hand,  from  which  he  is 
intoning  monotonously.  Above  his  voice  the  wounded  man's 
gibberish  rises,  meaningless  and  unemphatic  and  sustained. 


Turnabout 


THE  AMERICAN — the  older  one — wore  no  pink  Bedfords. 
His  breeches  were  of  plain  whipcord,  like  the  tunic.  And  the 
tunic  had  no  long  London-cut  skirts,  so  that  below  the  Sam 
Browne  the  tail  of  it  stuck  straight  out  like  the  tunic  of  a 
military  policeman  beneath  his  holster  belt.  And  he  wore 
simple  puttees  and  the  easy  shoes  of  a  man  of  middle  age, 
instead  of  Savile  Row  boots,  and  the  shoes  and  the  puttees 
did  not  match  in  shade,  and  the  ordnance  belt  did  not  match 
either  of  them,  and  the  pilot's  wings  on  his  breast  were  just 
wings.  But  the  ribbon  beneath  them  was  a  good  ribbon,  and 
the  insigne  on  his  shoulders  were  the  twin  bars  of  a  captain. 
He  was  not  tall.  His  face  was  thin,  a  little  aquiline;  the  eyes 
intelligent  and  a  little  tired.  He  was  past  twenty-five;  looking 
at  him,  one  thought,  not  Phi  Beta  Kappa  exactly,  but  Skull 
and  Bones  perhaps,  or  possibly  a  Rhodes  scholarship. 

One  of  the  men  who  faced  him  probably  could  not  see 
him  at  all.  He  was  being  held  on  his  feet  by  an  American 
military  policeman.  He  was  quite  drunk,  and  in  contrast 
with  the  heavy- jawed  policeman  who  held  him  erect  on  his 
long,  slim,  boneless  legs,  he  looked  like  a  masquerading  girl. 
He  was  possibly  eighteen,  tall,  with  a  pink-and-white  face 
and  blue  eyes,  and  a  mouth  like  a  girl's  mouth.  He  wore  a 
pea-coat,  buttoned  awry  and  stained  with  recent  mud,  and 
upon  his  blond  head,  at  that  unmistakable  and  rakish  swagger 

475 


476  The  Wasteland 

which  no  other  people  can  ever  approach  or  imitate,  the  cap 
of  a  Royal  Naval  Officer. 

"What's  this,  corporal?"  the  American  captain  said. 
"What's  the  trouble?  He's  an  Englishman.  You'd  better  let 
their  M.  P.'s  take  care  of  him." 

"I  know  he  is,"  the  policeman  said.  He  spoke  heavily, 
breathing  heavily,  in  the  voice  of  a  man  under  physical 
strain;  for  all  his  girlish  delicacy  of  limb,  the  English  boy 
was  heavier — or  more  helpless — than  he  looked.  "Stand  up!" 
the  policeman  said.  "They're  officers!" 

The  English  boy  made  an  effort  then.  He  pulled  himself 
together,  focusing  his  eyes.  He  swayed,  throwing  his  arms 
about  the  policeman's  neck,  and  with  the  other  hand  he 
saluted,  his  hand  flicking,  fingers  curled  a  little,  to  his  right 
ear,  already  swaying  again  and  catching  himself  again. 
"Cheer-o,  sir,"  he  said.  "Name's  not  Beatty,  I  hope." 

"No,"  the  captain  said. 

"Ah,"  the  English  boy  said.  "Hoped  not.  My  mistake.  No 
offense,  what?" 

"No  offense,"  the  captain  said  quietly.  But  he  was  looking 
at  the  policeman.  The  second  American  spoke.  He  was  a 
lieutenant,  also  a  pilot.  But  he  was  not  twenty-five  and  he 
wore  the  pink  breeches,  the  London  boots,  and  his  tunic 
might  have  been  a  British  tunic  save  for  the  collar. 

"It's  one  of  those  navy  eggs,"  he  said.  "They  pick  them 
out  of  the  gutters  here  all  night  long.  You  don't  come  to 
town  often  enough." 

"Oh,"  the  captain  said.  "I've  heard  about  them.  I  remem- 
ber now."  He  also  remarked  now  that,  though  the  street  was 
a  busy  one — it  was  just  outside  a  popular  cafe — and  there 
were  many  passers,  soldier,  civilian,  women,  yet  none  of 
them  so  much  as  paused,  as  though  it  were  a  familiar  sight. 
He  was  looking  at  the  policeman.  "Can't  you  take  him  to  his 
ship?" 


Turnabout  477 

"I  thought  of  that  before  the  captain  did,"  the  policeman 
said.  "He  says  he  can't  go  aboard  his  ship  after  dark  because 
he  puts  the  ship  away  at  sundown." 

"Puts  it  away?" 

"Stand  up,  sailor!"  the  policeman  said  savagely,  jerking 
at  his  lax  burden.  "Maybe  the  captain  can  make  sense  out 
of  it.  Damned  if  I  can.  He  says  they  keep  the  boat  under  the 
wharf.  Run  it  under  the  wharf  at  night,  and  that  they  can't 
get  it  out  again  until  the  tide  goes  out  tomorrow." 

"Under  the  wharf?  A  boat?  What  is  this?"  He  was  now 
speaking  to  the  lieutenant.  "Do  they  operate  some  kind  of 
aquatic  motorcycles?" 

"Something  like  that,"  the  lieutenant  said.  "You've  seen 
them — the  boats.  Launches,  camouflaged  and  all.  Dashing 
up  and  down  the  harbor.  You've  seen  them.  They  do  that 
all  day  and  sleep  in  the  gutters  here  all  night." 

"Oh,"  the  captain  said.  "I  thought  those  boats  were  ship 
commanders'  launches.  You  mean  to  tell  me  they  use  officers 
just  to — " 

"I  don't  know,"  the  lieutenant  said.  "Maybe  they  use  them 
to  fetch  hot  water  from  one  ship  to  another.  Or  buns.  Or 
maybe  to  go  back  and  forth  fast  when  they  forget  napkins 
or  something." 

"Nonsense,"  the  captain  said.  He  looked  at  the  English 
boy  again. 

"That's  what  they  do,"  the  lieutenant  said.  "Town's  lousy 
with  them  all  night  long.  Gutters  full,  and  their  M.  P.'s 
carting  them  away  in  batches,  like  nursemaids  in  a  park. 
Maybe  the  French  give  them  the  launches  to  get  them  out 
of  the  gutters  during  the  day." 

"Oh,"  the  captain  said,  "I  see."  But  it  was  clear  that  he 
didn't  see,  wasn't  listening,  didn't  believe  what  he  did  hear. 
He  looked  at  the  English  boy.  "Well,  you  can't  leave  him 
here  in  that  shape,"  he  said. 


478  The  Wasteland 

Again  the  English  boy  tried  to  pull  himself  together, 
"Quite  all  right,  'sure  you,"  he  said  glassily,  his  voice  pleas- 
ant, cheerful  almost,  quite  courteous.  "Used  to  it.  Con- 
founded rough  pave,  though.  Should  force  French  do  some- 
thing about  it.  Visiting  lads  jolly  well  deserve  decent  field 
to  play  on,  what?" 

"And  he  was  jolly  well  using  all  of  it  too,"  the  policeman 
said  savagely.  "He  must  think  he's  a  one-man  team,  maybe." 

At  that  moment  a  fifth  man  came  up.  He  was  a  British 
military  policeman.  "Nah  then,"  he  said.  "What's  this? 
What's  this?"  Then  he  saw  the  Americans'  shoulder  bars. 
He  saluted.  At  the  sound  of  his  voice  the  English  boy  turned, 
swaying,  peering. 

"Oh,  hullo,  Albert,"  he  said. 

"Nah  then,  Mr.  Hope,"  the  British  policeman  said.  He 
said  to  the  American  policeman,  over  his  shoulder:  "What 
is  it  this  time?" 

"Likely  nothing,"  the  American  said.  "The  way  you  guys 
run  a  war.  But  I'm  a  stranger  here.  Here.  Take  him." 

"What  is  this,  corporal?"  the  captain  said.  "What  was  he 
doing?" 

"He  won't  call  it  nothing,"  the  American  policeman  said, 
jerking  his  head  at  the  British  policeman.  "He'll  just  call  it  a 
thrush  or  a  robin  or  something.  I  turn  into  this  street  about 
three  blocks  back  a  while  ago,  and  I  find  it  blocked  with  a 
line  of  trucks  going  up  from  the  docks,  and  the  drivers  all 
hollering  ahead  what  the  hell  the  trouble  is.  So  I  come  on> 
and  I  find  it  is  about  three  blocks  of  them,  blocking  the 
cross  streets  too;  and  I  come  on  to  the  head  of  it  where  the 
trouble  is,  and  I  find  about  a  dozen  of  the  drivers  out  in 
front,  holding  a  caucus  or  something  in  the  middle  of  the 
street,  and  I  come  up  and  I  say,  What's  going  on  here?* 
and  they  leave  me  through  and  I  find  this  egg  here  laying — " 


Turnabout  479 

"Yer  talking  about  one  of  His  Majesty's  officers,  my  man," 
the  British  policeman  said. 

"Watch  yourself,  corporal,"  the  captain  said.  "And  you 
found  this  officer — " 

"He  had  done  gone  to  bed  in  the  middle  of  the  street,  with 
an  empty  basket  for  a  pillow.  Laying  there  with  his  hands 
under  his  head  and  his  knees  crossed,  arguing  with  them  about 
whether  he  ought  to  get  up  and  move  or  not.  He  said  that  the 
trucks  could  turn  back  and  go  around  by  another  street,  but 
that  he  couldn't  use  any  other  street,  because  this  street  was 
his." 

"His  street?" 

The  English  boy  had  listened,  interested,  pleasant.  "Billet, 
you  see,"  he  said.  "Must  have  order,  even  in  war  emergency. 
Billet  by  lot.  This  street  mine;  no  poaching,  eh?  Next  street 
Jamie  Wutherspoon's.  But  trucks  can  go  by  that  street  be- 
cause Jamie  not  using  it  yet.  Not  in  bed  yet.  Insomnia. 
Knew  so.  Told  them.  Trucks  go  that  way.  See  now?" 

"Was  that  it,  corporal?"  the  captain  said. 

"He  told  you.  He  wouldn't  get  up.  He  just  laid  there, 
arguing  with  them.  He  was  telling  one  of  them  to  go  some- 
where and  bring  back  a  copy  of  their  articles  of  war — " 

"King's  Regulations;  yes,"  the  captain  said. 

" — and  see  if  the  book  said  whether  he  had  the  right  of 
way,  or  the  trucks.  And  then  I  got  him  up,  and  then  the 
captain  come  along.  And  that's  all.  And  with  the  captain's 
permission  I'll  now  hand  him  over  to  His  Majesty's  wet 


nur— " 


"That'll  do,  corporal,"  the  captain  said.  "You  can  go.  I'll 
see  to  this."  The  policeman  saluted  and  went  on.  The  British 
policeman  was  now  supporting  the  English  boy.  "Can't  you 
take  him?"  the  captain  said.  "Where  are  their  quarters?" 

"I  don't  rightly  know,  sir,  if  they  have  quarters  or  not. 


480  The  Wasteland 

We — I  usually  see  them  about  the  pubs  until  daylight.  They 
don't  seem  to  use  quarters." 

"You  mean,  they  really  aren't  off  of  ships?" 

"Well,  sir,  they  might  be  ships,  in  a  manner  of  speaking. 
But  a  man  would  have  to  be  a  bit  sleepier  than  him  to  sleep 
in  one  of  them." 

"I  see,"  the  captain  said.  He  looked  at  the  policeman. 
"What  kind  of  boats  are  they?" 

This  time  the  policeman's  voice  was  immediate,  final  and 
completely  inflectionless.  It  was  like  a  closed  door.  "I  don't 
rightly  know,  sir." 

"Oh,"  the  captain  said.  "Quite.  Well,  he's  in  no  shape  to 
stay  about  pubs  until  daylight  this  time." 

"Perhaps  I  can  find  him  a  bit  of  a  pub  with  a  back  table, 
where  he  can  sleep,"  the  p